17 Jun 2009
Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall
Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach unite in a Schöne Müllerin of searing intensity.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
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Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
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Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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|