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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..
15 Sep 2009
Handel/arranged by Mendelssohn: Israel in Egypt
If, dear reader, a desire has ever swept over you (a desire such as a pregnant woman's craving for vanilla ice cream with pickles) to hear music reminiscent of both Messiah and the Fingal's Cave overture, CPO is just the musical ice cream parlor/deli for you.
Felix Mendelssohn famously resurrected masterpieces from Johann Sebastian Bach that had, unbelievably, slipped into obscurity in the early 19th century. But he didn’t stop there. This set revives Mendelssohn’s reorchestration of Handel’s Israel in Egypt.
The finely detailed booklet essay by Thomas Synfozik (as translated into English by Susan Marie Praeder) explains the circumstances of the work’s creation and its debut. Apparently Mendelssohn’s version of Handel’s oratorio enjoyed some popularity for a time. In the last few decades, however, a greater appreciation has developed for this and other works by Handel as the composer himself set them (admittedly, with innumerable variations for cast and venue differences).
The guiding force of this performance is Hermann Max, whose booklet biography places him as one of the “key figures” in the development of “authentic performance” in Germany. So we have the oxymoron here of inauthentic authenticity - Mendelssohn’s rewrite of Handel for another time’s tastes is played here with respect for the musical traditions of Mendelssohn’s time.
Ultimately, all that matters is the quality of the performance, and the set qualifies as a success. Max’s orchestra, Das Kleine Konzert, suffers from none of the demerits often associated with “historically informed performance.” Strings, though not large in number, do not scratch and rasp, horns do not bleat. Rhythms are flexible yet disciplined.
All of the six soloists - in a piece with relatively few solo arias for its length - all sing well. One of the two sopranos - the track listing makes any further identification impossible - does have such a piercing, high-lying tone that she resembles a boy soprano. That may well be intentional. The Rheinische Kantorei has a dominant role, and they sing with clarity and color.
Mendelssohn’s version as performed here comes in at just a little over 80 minutes, requiring a second disc. For the time being, most fans of Handel’s oratorio will surely prefer to hear his work as he set it, but this makes an entertaining supplement. Also entertaining are the photos of Hermann Max in the booklet, whose remarkable head of hair suggests what Herbert von Karajan would like with an Afro.