22 Jun 2009
Schwanengesang at Wigmore Hall
A performance of sublime authority from Goerne and Eschenbach
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
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.
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|