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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..
24 Sep 2009
Incomparable Schubert — Goerne at the Wigmore Hall Part 2
This programme of mostly solemn, elevated music based around songs on such themes as Evening, Death and Immutability was part of Matthias Goerne’s ‘Journey with Schubert’ during which he is recording the songs on eleven CDs and presenting the series in recitals all over the world. If the singing on this occasion is anything to go by, these recordings are set to become the standard to which other singers should aspire.
Goerne’s unwavering legato, at once intimate and yet redolent of grandeur, is, frankly, matchless - no other singer, recorded or currently active, can sustain the long, flowing lines of songs such as ‘Nacht und Träume’ and ‘Im Abendrot’ with his ease, intensity and phenomenal breath control: this recital displayed that unique ability to tremendous effect. He began with the former song - daring as an introduction, but a wonderful way to establish the atmosphere of this sombre, deeply philosophical evening. Of course he respects the marking of langsam as few other singers can, yet he still sustains the inner rhythm of the lines: it was a pity that Alexander Schmalcz’ playing was a little on the heavy side.
I must have heard ‘Im Abendrot’ at least a hundred times in recital, but never like this - sehr langsam is the instruction, and Goerne intones the spacious, expansive melody with such quiet fervour that you find yourself holding your breath: the silence in the hall after ‘In mein stilles fenster sinkt’ was like the lull before a huge storm, far away yet imminently expected. Superb.
Graham Johnson wrote of ‘Die Sterne’ (Schlegel) that the singer with the breath control needed to execute its phrases ‘seems synonymous with someone who has ‘seen the light’ and this most unusual of Schubert’s ‘star’ songs indeed presents lofty challenges, to each of which Goerne rises with great skill, his shimmering high notes displayed to as much advantage as his warm, bass-baritone depths.
‘Der liebliche Stern’ has been described as a ‘humdrum’ song, but not here - Goerne’s tender, earnest phrasing and Schmalcz’ wistful playing of the ostinato accompaniment made for an intense experience, ‘Es zittert von Frühlingswinden’ living up to Gerald Moore’s requirement for the singer to ‘love each phrase’ and to sing with ‘the smoothest calmest line.’
‘Totengräbers Heimweh’ is the song of which it was once said that Goerne’s interpretation of it was ‘incomparable - his singing comes from inside’ and this was amply illustrated by this evening’s performance of it. From the fervid questioning of the start - ‘Wohin? o wohin?’ through the anguished depths of ‘Ich stehe allein! - so ganz allein!’ to the spellbinding mezza-voce of ‘O Heimat des Friedens, Der Seligen Land!’ in which the long phrases were given in one seemingly effortless arch of sound, this truly was singing with which it is very difficult to find anything to compare. The single encore, ‘An den Mond’ (‘Fullest wieder Busch und Tal’) was a fitting conclusion to this evening of peerless singing.