17 Jun 2009
Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall
Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach unite in a Schöne Müllerin of searing intensity.
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal. Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms do occur.
Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach unite in a Schöne Müllerin of searing intensity.
I first reviewed Goerne’s interpretation of Die schöne Müllerin in 2000, a revelatory experience in that his was the first version of this work which seemed to belong more to the world of Winterreise than to the gemütlichkeit with which Schubert’s first Müller song cycle is generally associated. In conversation a couple of years later on, he gave his view of the work — “All this naïveté — the boy walking through the trees finding love and all that, is not what the work is about; it is much, much more involved with what might be called ‘Sturm und Drang’” — and he regarded the songs after ‘Pause’ as ‘a descending spiral for which the only culmination is death by suicide.’ Judging by this evening’s performance, he has now decided that the descent begins much earlier than that.
Goerne has at times appeared to shop around for his accompanists, seemingly in a quest to find the one who most nearly comes close to his own unique concept of Lieder. Previously it was Eric Schneider who filled that role, but in Christoph Eschenbach he seems to have found the ‘Seelenfreund’ whose playing is, if anything, even more rapt, mesmerizingly slow and intense than his singing. If ever a singer and pianist were as one in their freedom from the constriction of the bar lines, then these two are.
This is the ultimate serious This is the ultimate serious Schöne Müllerin, barely leavened with a touch of lightness — all the humour is sardonic, all the beauty deceptive, all the tempi so slow as to seem at times in danger of standing still. Of course I loved every phrase, but I can quite see that for many, this is not “their” Schöne Müllerin — for that, you need to go to Quasthoff or just about any other Lieder singer around today. barely leavened with a touch of lightness — all the humour is sardonic, all the beauty deceptive, all the tempi so slow as to seem at times in danger of standing still. Of course I loved every phrase, but I can quite see that for many, this is not “their” Schöne Müllerin — for that, you need to go to Quasthoff or just about any other Lieder singer around today.
‘Das Wandern’ is not a jolly romp but prefigures what is to come — within the subtle variations of “vom Wasser” and “Wandern” we are made aware that this is not a frolicsome lad but one whose ultimate fate is to be in thrall to an illusion — the spirit of that other deceptive piece of “rural idyll” Tennyson’s ‘May Queen’ seems to hover over us throughout — “They say he’s dying all for love, but that can never be: / They say his heart is breaking, mother — what is that to me?” Goerne seems to have decided that the crucial turning point in the cycle comes much earlier than generally supposed — here, with the line “Ist das denn meine Strasse?” sung in tones of suppressed fear and anguish, we are virtually in suicide land with the second song.
The wonderful ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ is so often sung as pretty ditty, but here we had frank, straightforward questions about the speaker’s future, culminating in superficial yet ultimately doomed exuberance. I have never heard ‘Der Neugierige’ performed with such intensity — singer and pianist united as if in prayer, the little questioning phrases after “ob mich mein Herz belog” played almost in a reverie, “die ganze Welt mir ein” taken so slowly that it became a kind of litany. I need hardly add that the earth stood still as far as most of the audience were concerned, but I can quite see how some might find it a little, shall we say, over-wrought?
‘Eifersucht und Stolz’ like most of the more vigorous songs was taken at a cracking pace, the diction at “da steckt kein sittsam Kind den Kopf zum Fenster ‘naus” remarkably crisp despite the speed, and this was followed by a ‘Die liebe farbe’ only just short of psychotic — the amount of sheer hatred packed into the seemingly innocent line “mein Schatz hat’s Grün so gern” had to be heard to be believed.
The bleakness never really lets up, ‘Trockne Blumen’ touching new depths of the most profound sadness, no triumph at “der Mai ist kommen” instead only the sense that the coming of May is cruel in the same way as Eliot’s April is, because it brings the Spring and hope so welcome to all but the poet. The final “lullaby” was again taken at a “slow and stopping pace” and some of the words were a little mangled in the process — indeed, scrupulous though his concern for the language is, Goerne does have a tendency, alarming to those of nervous disposition, to be somewhat free with what goes where in a song. One could put this down to his fervent intensity getting the better of him, since it cannot surely be lack of familiarity with the text.
Goerne says that “People always think of Winterreise as being dark, gloomy, but the man does not die at the end, he goes on, unlike the youth” (in Die schöne Müllerin). Indeed, and the wanderer’s “Nun weiter denn, nur weiter” of the later work seems positively rosy-cheeked cheeriness compared to this miller lad’s desire to weep the green grass “ganz totenbleich.” One anticipates Wednesday’s Winterreise and Saturday’s Schwanengesang with eagerness tempered with apprehension — this first installment of Goerne and Eschenbach’s interpretation of these works (recorded on Harmonia Mundi, and soon to be followed by further discs) promises evenings of an intensity as troubling as it is breathtaking.
|Sehnsucht||An mein Herz||Die schöne Müllerin|