22 Jun 2009
Schwanengesang at Wigmore Hall
A performance of sublime authority from Goerne and Eschenbach
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
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Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
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As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
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|