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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..
08 Mar 2010
Brilliant Schubert programme: Matthias Goerne, Wigmore Hall
This second of two recitals of Schubert songs by Matthias Goerne and Helmut Deutsch at the Wigmore Hall, London was superb, the programme created with exceptional intelligence and insight into the inner dynamics of Schubert’s music.
Starting a recital with An die untergehende Sonne was daring. Immediately we’re thrown into darkness and the murky depths of inner consciousness. “Immer tiefer, immer leiser, immer ernster”. The text may be peaceful, but the dizzying descent in the piano part hints at something more unsettling. Without a break, Goerne launched into Der Tod und das Mädchen. The tolling prelude makes it clear this sleep is death. The poet is Matthias Claudius, but the concept goes right back to the Middle Ages, It permeates Schubert’s aesthetic.
The theme recurs in Die Rose and Viola. Note the contrast between the two poems and Schubert’s settings. Die Rose is a poem by Freidrich von Schlegel. It’s beautifully, concisely written. The first stanza in particular scans so tightly, it’s like music: no wonder Schubert was drawn to it. It’s such a good poem, it’s a joy to read and savour word by word. Schlegel covers a wide range of images in a few brief lines. Goerne respects each word, colouring and shading with nuance, so the rose comes alive in sound, before it slowly fades away.
In contrast Viola, is to a poem by Schubert’s rakish friend Franz von Schober. “Schneeglöcklein” runs the refrain. Six verses down the violet awakes. Seven stanzas later she flees “von der tiefsten Angst verfleischt”. The violet’s come out too soon and is caught by the frost. Silver bells, bridegrooms, flowers anthropomorphized so corny that even Disney might cringe. Even Schubert struggles to make sense of the endless verses. Both Schubert and von Schober would have known Goethe’s poem Das Vielchen, and probably Mozart’s setting of it. Strophic ballads don’t have to be maudlin. Goerne makes the song believable by singing without excess ornament. After Die Rose, it’s hard to take Viola. It’s a measure of Goerne’s skill that he can pull it off.
Another very intelligent pairing : Auf dem Wasser zu Singen and Der Zwerg. Both songs describe death on the water, but in sharp contrast. In the former, Schubert’s melody dances delicately, so you can almost see the “schimmernden Wellen” as the boat gently glides on the lake. Don’t be lulled. The little boat is a metaphor for the passing of time. The poem, by Friedrich Graf zu Stollberg-Stolberg ( double barreled prince) is altogether more sophisticated than the shock horror gothic in Der Zwerg which ends in suicide-murder.
Matthäus von Collin’s poem isn’t bad, though. Rather than being a subtle mood piece it’s a saga in miniature. The dwarf and the queen have a long, complex history. She willingly accepts being murdered, even absolving the killer. It’s pretty kinky. Schubert doesn’t exaggerate the lurid colours, though his setting is dramatic. This song is always a show stopper, it’s so good. Again, Goerne doesn’t give in to pathos, his singing giving the dwarf dignity and respect. That last line, “An keiner Küste” is so chillingly sung that Goerne hints that the real horror is yet to come. The dwarf might not escape in death, but be cursed to sail forever on the lake, trapped in time.
But as usual, Goethe gets the last word. Pairing An die Entfernte with Ganymed brings out another dynamic in this extremely well planned programme. The first ends with the plaintive call “O komm, Geliebete, mir zurück”, and the second contains the soaring phrase “Ich komme, ich komme ! Wohin? Ach, wohin?” Schubert emphasizes the significance of this phrase by setting it in high relief, pauses on either side to accentuate the arc in the line. And then, “hinab strebt’s ‘s hinauf!,” Goerne’s voice lifts upwards, impressively. He catches the impatience in the song - “Mir! Mir!” and “Aufwärts!”. The stillness that prevailed before is now blown away by urgency. The concert began with the downward spiral of the piano prelude of An die untergehende Sonne, but ended with energetic animation, thrusting upwards.