22 Jun 2009
Schwanengesang at Wigmore Hall
A performance of sublime authority from Goerne and Eschenbach
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
A performance of sublime authority from Goerne and Eschenbach
After a searing Die Schöne Müllerin on Monday and a definitive Winterreise on Wednesday, Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach gave the Wigmore Hall audience yet another reason to feel almost unreasonably privileged on Saturday, with a Schwanengesang of an emotional intensity and technical prowess which it is hard to imagine being equalled.
This is a melancholy, tormented ‘cycle’ in the hands of these musicians, a far cry from the ‘charm’ which some see in the Rellstab settings, and the mood is set in the very first song, with a ‘Liebesbotschaft’ which speaks not of a prettily babbling brook carrying a message of love but of the same stream in which the Miller lad drowns and which is frozen over in ‘Auf dem Flusse.’ Indeed, the sense of a raging torrent beneath the surface pervades this interpretation, the message not one so much of tenderness as foreboding. That same sense of dread hovers over Goerne’s achingly poignant ‘Kriegers Ahnung,’ where the lines ‘Lag sie in meinem Arm’ and ‘Herzliebste — Gute Nacht!’ are delivered with touching sincerity.
‘Ständchen’ is always hard to hear anew, but Goerne and Eschenbach managed to make it sound fresh, the lines ‘In den Stillen Hain herneider, / Liebchen, komm’ zu mir!’ amazingly sung on one breath, the piano’s staccato notes underpinning the sense of disquiet. Even ‘Abschied,’ that grave of many a singer’s hopes of syllabic perfection (of course, Goerne got every one in place) was more of a farewell to life itself than just to a place and the people in it.
The Heine songs were tremendous — I have never heard so tormented an Atlas, or so heartbroken a rejected lover in ‘Ihr Bild,’ the legato line here sustained with quiet intensity and the sense of disbelief at ‘Dass ich dich verloren hab!’ utterly compelling. Similar technical perfection was heard in ‘Am Meer,’ the piano forceful rather than subdued, the voice melting from the solemn grandeur of the beginning to the bitterness of ‘Vergiftet’ at the end.
‘Der Doppelgänger’ was frightening: not only for the sheer fervour of the singing, but the elemental force which seemed to be behind the words, and the command with which they were sung. No one rises to that cruelly exposed high G as this singer does, and no one manages to make that howl of despair so absolutely eloquent, the ensuing ‘Du, Doppelgänger’ phrased with ringing authority. A magisterial performance, followed by one of those silences which speak louder than any applause. ‘Die Taubenpost’ was given as an encore, sung with tenderness and unforced candour, the crucial ‘Sie heisst — die Sehnsucht!’ not isolated but part of the same unaffectedly moving whole. I had thought that his performance with Brendel was as far as anyone could go with these songs, but I was wrong.
It’s always difficult to programme with this work, but here we had a brilliant solution in Schubert’s Piano Sonata D960. Eschenbach has been doing so much more conducting and accompanying in recent years that it’s easy to forget what a highly individual pianist he is — of course, his special quality is akin to Goerne’s in that his interpretations derive from the feeling that rhythm and not metre is the life-blood of music, and that the most sublime music of all is slow — very slow indeed, in the case of the sublime Andante here, taken more Molto adagio to my ears. Naturally I loved every audacious minute, but I can quite see that many would not. Schubert was almost certainly writing this sonata at the same time as he was working on the Schwanengesang settings, and it shares the same wonderful completeness and coherence whilst possessing something given perhaps only to ‘Die Taubenpost’ — a sense of serenity amidst sorrow, brought out wonderfully by Eschenbach’s playing.
|Sehnsucht||An mein Herz||Die schöne Müllerin|