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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..
06 Sep 2009
Mahler and Ligeti at the Proms?
On the surface, the theme of this Prom seemed to be Sci Fi movies at the Proms. Both Ligeti's Atmosphères and Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra became huge hits when Stanley Kubrick used them in 2001 : A Space Odyssey. So how did Mahler's *Kindertotenlieder* fit in ?
The Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester certainly aren’t Mahler specialists. The name was chosen by Claudio Abbado when he set up his network of interrelated orchestras which have changed the face of European music. Although none of the performers are aged over 26, it’s not a youth orchestra in the usual sense. These players are carefully hand picked from thousands of applicants, and many go on to play in major orchestras.
Their Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces was lively and crisp and they did the spectacular moments in Also sprach Zarathustra to great effect. But the real test of an orchestra is how they handle the more subtle moments, rather than the big flashy passages like that striking entree to Zarathustra, which everyone knows from TV ads even if they don’t know Kubrick. The GMJO are very accomplished but there is only so much a musician can do at 20, compared to what he or she might do at, say, 45. So this wasn’t a performance of great interpretative depth, but something to enjoy for its sheer beauty.
Ligeti’s Atmosphères is an abstract soundscape. What seems like huge washes of white noise are created by extremes of detail, “microtonal polyphony”. The music moves in swathes of sound, the strings giving way to a surge of brass, each part played with slight variation. It’s the blend that creates the “atmosphere”. Hence the otherworldy sound of percussion brushes played against the strings of the piano : it’s music going boldly where no man has gone before. No wonder Kubrick heard it as “music from another planet”. Jonathan Nott’s soft focus sometimes underwhelms in other repertoire, but it’s perfect for this work, which is one of his specialities.
How would Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder fare in such a program and with an audience geared up for big movie themes ? The songs are about the death of children, and Ruckert’s poems are so personal that it’s almost painful to read them exposed on the printed page. Yet it’s a mistake to assume that such tragedy should lead to hyperfervid, overly operatic performance. Goerne’s approach was psychologically astute. The father in the poems is so numbed, he can only articulate his pain in brief moments : most of his grieving is inwards. This isn’t a time for histrionics.
Goerne’s approach is also musically astute. Kindertoitenlieder evolves like a miniature symphony. Like most of Mahler’s music, it moves towards a resolution, beyond immediate struggle towards some kind of transcendence. Dark into light. So the final song “In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus”, starts with a storm. Significantly the storm clears into music of great delicacy and clarity. The dead children have gone into a better place where they will be cared for, “as in their mother’s house”. Miss this, and you miss so much of Mahler’s aesthetic. So “going into another place” isn’t really so far away from the rarified vision of Ligeti’s Atmosphères after all.
This Prom is available online on demand until 11 September on www.bbc.co.uk/proms both in audio and TV rebroadcast.