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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..
05 Mar 2010
Matthias Goerne at Wigmore Hall, London
In this, the first of two recitals with pianist Helmut Deutsch, baritone Matthias Goerne continued his very personal journey through the landscape of Schubert’s lieder, a passage which is currently being preserved on an outstanding series of discs by Harmonia Mundi.
The paths on this occasion carried him largely to sombre, meditative places, the domains being defined by a series of mainly minor poets - friends and acquaintances of the composer, and with whom he performed, conversed and relaxed in the Viennese salons of the 1820s.
‘Der Jüngling und der Tod’ (‘The youth and death’), with a text by Schubert’s early champion, Josef von Spaun, opened the recital, firmly establishing the literary and emotional tone; for here, Youth cries out for the ‘calm embrace’ of Death, yearning to be led to ‘dreamed-of’ lands far from the torments of life. Deutsch’s dramatically dark piano postlude presented a stark contrast with the subsequent gentle grace of the strophic ‘Das Lied im Grünen’ (‘Songs in the open air’); but despite the apparent sense of ease, a tremulous disquiet troubled the surface as the speaker looks ahead to the days when life is ‘no longer green’.
Songs by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis followed. The introspective text of ‘Die Herbstnacht’ (‘Autumn night’) allowed Goerne to settle into the seamless, legato stream of sound - seductively sustained, yet coloured by delicate emotive shadings - for which he is revered. Indeed, the understated melancholy and brooding might have become a little too pervasive, particularly given the performers’ propensity for performing the songs with scarcely a break, and the more agitated contours and sentiments of ‘An mein Herz’ provided a welcome contrast.
Despite the attempts of Richard Stokes, in the programme notes, to bolster the merits of these lesser lights of German Romantic verse (“If Schubert composed some 150 songs to the minor verse of his friends and acquaintances, that does not imply a lack of literary awareness, but rather a gift of friendship”), it was a setting of Friedrich von Schlegel, ‘The Wanderer’, which proved to be the highlight of the first half. Deutsch’s aural impression of the ‘moon’s light’ perfectly captured in rare harmonic nuance the silvery gleam; and, the more sophisticated relationship between voice and accompaniment drew an added depth from the performers - a seriousness which was sustained through the anonymous ‘Klage’ (‘Lament’) and Schober’s ‘Am Bach im Frühling’ (‘By the stream in spring’), where the sudden wanings of colour and weight in the voice revealed the omnipresence of death.
After the interval, Goerne and Deutsch seemed even more in harmony, embraced by a shared aesthetic vision. The second half began with upwardly curving ripples from the keyboard, signalling a rare moment of lightness. In ‘An die Laute’ (‘To the lute’) the serenading lover urges his instrument to be tender and soft - not to win his loved one’s heart, but rather so that the jealous neighbours are not disturbed. After settings of Freiherr von Schlechta and Johann Baptist Mayrhofer, it was again perhaps telling that it was the more stellar figures of Rückert and von Schober who had so obviously had inspired Schubert to expressive heights. The former’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’ (‘You are repose’) was exquisitely shaped, the second climax approached and wrought with remarkably controlled passion. In the concluding lines, Goerne created a quiet stillness of remarkable and touching delicacy. In contrast, the satisfyingly familiar ‘An die Musik’ revealed the darker colours in Goerne’s baritone range, and the dialogue between voice and piano left hand enabled Deutsch to enter into the conversation as both accompanist and equal.
The final two songs, ‘Abschied von der Harfe’(‘Farewell to the harp’) and ‘Liebesend’ (‘Song’s end’) lowered a sombre curtain on the evening’s proceedings. The performers offered no hint of consolation, Goerne sustaining the embedded melancholy until the dying strains, as ‘From a cold heart/ the magic of song now steals away,/ and ever closer step/ transience and the grave.’ As throughout the recital, there were no melodramatic gestures, no exaggerated mannerisms, just a heartfelt sincerity communicated by the most controlled and often understated musical means.
What was most striking about this recital was Goerne’s ability not only to present the material with consummate mastery, but also to convey a genuine sense of inhabiting the experience of these songs; to balance introspection with direct communication, all the while sustaining a mood of intimacy worthy of the Schubertiaden itself.