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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.
‘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.
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..
20 Sep 2009
Die schöne Müllerin by Mark Padmore, Wigmore Hall
Schubert’s first song-cycle is a perfect choice with which to open a
new concert season, and the Wigmore Hall was packed on Friday evening in
anticipation of this recital by tenor Mark Padmore, much admired for the focus
and concentration of his ‘story-telling’, and Paul Lewis, one of
the most expressive and poetic of pianists today.
In the event, this was a controlled and precise rendition of Die schöne
Müllerin, thoughtfully conceived and executed with commitment and
integrity. The contrasts and juxtapositions of the text — as the wanderer
fluctuates between hope and desperation — were conveyed by skilfully
controlled oppositions of dynamic, tonality and tempo. Thus, a perfectly paced
and well-structured whole was enriched by carefully considered gestures: for
example, small hesitations — before Padmore’s exquisite
pianissimo of ‘Das Wasser’ in ‘Das Wandern’
(‘Journeying’), or preceding the piano’s shift to the minor
key half-way through ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where to?’), to name
but two of many such subtleties — enhanced the fluctuations between
excitement and longing, between optimism and despair. Similarly, the energy of
Lewis’s introduction to ‘Halt’ (‘Halt!’) captured
the young man’s eager exhilaration; while, the final, weighty, assertive
chords of ‘Ungeld’ (‘Impatience’) and
‘Mein!’ (‘Mine!’) conveyed the surety, and
misguidedness, of his conviction that “Dein ist mein Herz, und sol les
ewig bleiben” (“My heart is yours, and shall be forever!”).
Moreover, a sudden accelerando at the concluding line of ‘Die
böse farbe’ (‘The hateful colour’) communicated the agony
felt at departure, underlying the impassioned cry, “Zum Abschied deine
Hand!” (“give me your hand in parting!)
Indeed, in many ways the performers seemed to have exchanged their
conventional roles: from the rich assertive gestures of the opening bars of
‘Das Wandern’, it was evident that it was Lewis’s
accompaniment that would propel the musical and dramatic continuity. The piano
was both scene-setter and protagonist: rippling with the recurring arpeggiac
echoes of the brook, Lewis’s accompaniment both depicted the scenes and
source of the tragedy and embodied the inner turmoil of the wanderer’s
mind as he struggles with the fickle ‘murmuring friend’ which lulls
him to his Fate - a fusion of inner and outer, of man and the natural
environment which is truly Romantic.
In contrast, Padmore seemed less implicated, more objective, a teller of a
tale. Making frequent use of a fragile, haunting head voice, he may have kept
his distance from the young lover’s turmoil, but that is not to imply
that sang inexpressively. The tenor’s restraint in the final lines of
‘Pause’ — “Ist es der Nachklang meiner Liebespein/Sol
les das Vorspiel neuer Lieder sein?” (“Is this the echo of my
love’s torment/Or the prelude to new songs?”) — evoked the
bitter-sweet nature of the young man’s love, and his growing
self-knowledge. The octave rise on “Leibesnot”,
(“Anguish’), in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ (‘The beloved
colour’), the touching intensification and colouring of “mein
Herz” in ‘Ungeduld’, the guileless tenderness of the
timorous, pained questions “Wie welk, wie blaβ? … Wovon so
naβ?” (“Why faded, why pale? … What makes you
wet?”) in ‘Trockne Blumen’ (‘Withered Flowers’)
similarly demonstrated an impressive and coherent attention to detail.
Yet, one could not help feeling that Padmore’s delivery was rather
limited in tonal range, and thus in emotional variety. Over-use of a withdrawn,
plaintive timbre, together with a marked absence of vibrato throughout,
resulted in a weakening of dramatic impact, as familiarity weakened the meaning
and effect. Padmore’s diction, however, was excellent, even in the
‘busier’ numbers, such as ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The
Hunter’) where the pace and energetic accompaniment were no hindrance to
clarity. But, both performers seemed more at ease in the quieter, tranquil
songs, and here the ensemble was outstanding. Lewis’s understated
repeating rhythmic patterns in the closing two songs created an air of
inevitability as the distant call of the brook itself lured the wanderer, and
the audience, to its depths.
This was a genuinely unified conception and performance. One may like
one’s Schubert more fervent, more wrought or more turbulent, but Padmore
and Lewis offered a reading of clarity and cohesion, shaping and sustaining the
emotional and narrative journey, and creating moments of great sadness,
serenity and beauty along the way.