07 Nov 2010
Angelika Kirchschlager, German Lieder 1830-40 Wigmore Hall
Angelika Kirchschlager and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall showed what real Lieder singing should be.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Angelika Kirchschlager and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall showed what real Lieder singing should be.
Of course Lieder can be enjoyed on a superficial level as pure sound, but it’s infinitely more rewarding when intelligent interpretation brings out true depth.
There are celebrities of whom it’s said that opera fans think they’re Lieder singers, and Lieder fans think they’re opera singers. But not of Kirchschlager, who is superlative in both genres.
This was an unusual programme, far more difficult to carry off than might seem in theory. Instead of going for surefire hit material, Kirchschlager and Martineau chose material that showed how fertile German song writing was in the decade 1830-40. These are most certainly not “Victorian parlour songs” as they were written for sophisticated and intellectual audiences who knew the composers and poets well. Fanny Mendelssohn gave regular recitals at home, which were attended by the best minds in Berlin, and were so popular that the house was extended to cope with guests. Salons like these were the way artistic people converged. The Schubertiades were by no means unique.
Felix Mendelssohn’s songs about Spring are gloriously ecstatic, “Frühlingstrunknen Blumen”, (spring-intoxicated flowers) are not merely decorative but a metaphor for new life after hard times. Kirchschlager’s voice rises lithely, then dips sensuously round words like “Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden” (All things must change) Winter will return, but Mendelssohn embraces the moment of energy. Kirchschlager’s perception brought out the link between the Spring songs and the second set of Mendelssohn songs. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges(op 34/2), for example, is sensual. Then a real stroke of good programme planning. In Neue Liebe(op 19a/4), the queen of the elves appears and smiles enigmatically. Is it new love, or death?
This reinforces the meaning of Franz Paul Lachner’s Die badende Elfe. Most people have heard of Lachner in connection with Richard Wagner, who ousted him from Munich. Lachner’s song cycle Sängerfahrt op 33 dates from 1831-2 when he still lived in Vienna. While he was influenced by Schubert, whom he knew personally, Lachner’s songs evoke earlier traditions, for example the songs of Carl Zelter, who introduced Goethe to young Felix Mendelssohn.
There are some wonderful songs in Lachner’s Sängerfahrt, though Kirchschlager sang only four, probably wisely as some don’t suit female voice. But how she made a case for them ! Die badende Elfe came vividly to life, Martineau playing arpeggiations that sparkled as delicately as water and light. Kirchschlager’s timbre was clear, bright, almost trembling with excitement. A man spies a water nymph bathing in the moonlight. Since the poem is by Heine, expect deeper meanings. Kirchschlager shapes the phrase “Arm und Nacken, weiss und lieblich” sensually. What’s turning the poet on is implicit, especially since Lachner wrote the songs for his bride-to-be. Pure, chaste,but erotic.
it’s hard to forget Schumann’s Dichterliebe settings of Im Mai and Eine Liebe, but Kirchschlager did Lachner more than justice. I’ve heard three versions of these songs and thought I knew them well, but Kirchschlager’s a revelation. Her lucidity eclipses all else. Martineau’s playing, too, convinced me that modern piano isn’t necessarily a bar to freeing the energy in these songs. The explicitly Schubertian elements in Die einsame Träne might sound derivative, but Kirchschlager sings with conviction. The “falling tears” in the piano part work well because Martineau is light of hand and pedal.
Three of the Fanny Mendelssohn songs heard here come from her Op 1. They’re not early works, but the first published, which was a daring act for a woman of her status at that time. She was a pianist rather than a singer, so her songs give Martineau a chance to bring out their best qualities. In Schwanenlied,(op 1/1) for example, slow, graceful movement, and the ending dissolves mysteriously. The poet’s Heine, whom Fanny met and disliked, but the song captures the foreboding behind the shining surface. On the other hand, in Warum sind denn, die Rosen so blass, (op1/3) she replaces Heine’s “Leichenduft”(stink of a rotting corpse) with the word “Blümenduft”. (scent of flowers).
Kirchschlager and Martineau also chose Carl Loewe’s op 60 setting of the Chamisso poems Schumann made immortal in Frauenliebe und Leben. Here, Kirchschlager filled lines like “die Quelle der Freudigkeit” with such warmth that even the most fervent feminist could not doubt its sincerity. Martineau made much of the almost Brahmsian richness in the piano part, particularly lovely in An meinen Herzen. Since Brahms was at the time only three years old, it’s an indication of how significant Loewe was, and why the music of this decade, 1830-40 needs further assessment.
Loewe’s songs are vivid and imaginative. Two songs from his Vier Fabbelieder op 64 (1837) gave Kirchschlager a chance to show what a vivid character singer she can be, combining her opera experience with true Lieder singing. Der Kuckkuck uses the same Wunderhorn text that Mahler would set fifty years later. Thanks to Kirchschlager, Loewe’s cuckoo is funnier, even if the donkey cry, “Ija ! Ija!” isn’t quite so obvious. More of a challenge was the long strophic ballad, Der verliebte Maikäfer (Glow worm in Love). A foppish glow worm courts a fly but is too vain to see she can’t stand him. Nice growling sounds to create the lumpen bug, light sharp sounds for the fly. The punchline comes at the end, when the story changes - two (human) lovers are about to fool around at night. The story’s complicated, but Kirchschlager’s diction is so clear that meaning comes through even if you don’t know German. This is where her experience shows. She acts through her voice, expressively, never losing the sharp wit beneath the charm.
This concert was being recorded for future broadcast. If it’s released on CD, it will be a must for anyone seriously interested in Lieder.