Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]
03 Apr 2011

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave the finest recital so far in the Wigmore Hall’s decade by decade series of German Song.

German Song Decade by Decade 1870-80

Florian Boresch, Malcolm Martineau. Wigmore Hall, London, 30th March 2011

Above: Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]

 

This time the focus was on songs written between 1870 and 1880. It’s a transitional period, dominated not by the unification of Germany but by Richard Wagner. Wagner’s impact was overwhelming. Intensely loved or loathed, his influence redefined the terms of art song. Boesch and Martineau chose a programme based on Brahms, Liszt and Hugo Wolf, to illustrate different responses to Wagner’s presence.

Brahms was an intimate of Eduard Hanslick, so he was somewhat immune. Yet one might be tempted to read Wagner’s hothouse passions into Brahms’s 8 Lieder und Gesänge op 57, as Susan Youens mentions in her programme notes. “All of these poems”, she writes, “are intensely erotic, and some of Brahms’s prissier contemporaries were offended…But the red thread we trace through these 8 songs is that of a lover who must contain his sexual desire without ever knowing whether his patience will be rewarded”.

In “Unbewegte laue luft”, (op 57/8) the heaving bosoms in the text indicate what “heavenly satisfactions” are in store, but the music itself is more restrained. Brahms seems more interested in somnolent Nocturne than erotic excess. The piano part develops like slow footsteps, each third chord in downward tread. Brahms depicts the fountain’s ripples and increases the tempo as the poet speaks of meeting his beloved. Fischer-Dieskau’s version of this song is decidedly chaste. Boesch infuses it with more personal intimacy, but the mood is still much deeper than lust.

What Wagner might have made of these poems by Georg Friedrich Daumer! In “Die Schnur, die Perl’ and Perle” (op 57/7) a pearl necklace “weigt sie sich so fröhlich”, rocks happily on the breast denied to the lover. Brahms doesn’t overextend his hand, so to speak. Boesch is discreet, warming the words gently, without exaggeration. Indeed, the most “Brahmsian” of these songs is “Es träumte mir” (op 57/3) almost a miniature, so delicate is its mood. Boesch almost whispers the repeat “Es sei ein Traum”, and Martineau’s piano expresses what words cannot say.

Boesch and Martineau also performed a mixed group of Brahms songs which enhanced Brahms’s aesthetic restraint. “Mondenschein” (op 85/2, Heine) came over with the reverence of a prayer. Brahms’s God resided in nature. More images of coolness, stillness and depth. In “Dein blaues Auge” (op 59/8) the beloved’s eyes are “as limpid as a lake, and like a lake so cool”. Boesch sings with such lucidity that the chill feels calm and sane. Not Tristan und Isolde. In “O kühler Wald “(op 72/3), “in Schmerzen schlief der Widerhall, die Lieder sind verweht”. Even an echo falls silent, and songs have blown away. Brahms could not have created Seigfried, talking to the birds.

Liszt’s connection to Wagner was obviously more complex. For a composer who was by instinct a pianist, Liszt makes great efforts to engage with words rather than succumb to pianist flourish. Gebet (S331) is a prayer, half spoken, the vocal part undecorated. As the penitent submits himself to God, the piano introduces a change of mood. At the end, Boesch sings “Mir wird so leicht, so leicht”, each phrase separated for emphasis. It’s as if he’s connecting to a spiritual presence we cannot see.

Hugo Wolf worshipped Wagner, and indeed managed to get into Wagner’s hotel to meet his hero, the way teenage rock star groupies might do. Boesch and Martineau chose Wolf’s earliest published songs, to texts by Heine, written when he was around 17. The poems offer dramatic possibilities - ships with great black sails in stormy seas, a shadow stalking a party, Hussars blowing trumpets. Already you can detect the germ of Wolf’s later vignettes. Not for nothing was Wolf called “The Wagner of the Lied”. Because these songs are so early, they need to be performed with particular care, and often don’t get the treatment they deserve. Boesch and Martineau take them seriously, and make them wholly convincing.

Two other composers were included in this programme. Zdeněk Fibich, much influenced by Wagner and the German side of his upbringing, wrote the opera Šárka which still sometimes surfaces in performance. In this recital, he was represented by Loreley a song to Heine’s text. It’s set dramatically, welling waves and wild, almost contrapuntal crescendo — a melodrama in miniature.

Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) is much less familiar. Apparently he had connections to Brahms, and wrote mainly non-vocal music. Boesch and Martineau chose two songs (also Heine), Es war ein alte König and Es fällt ein Sterne herunter. Both attempt to dramatize the songs to a great degree — falling starlight figures in the piano part, for example. Martineau, however, stops them from feeling heavy handed, and Boesch stresses the lilt in words like “Apfelbaume” to liven the mood.

Intelligent encores, too, with a nod to the future of Lieder. Wolf’s Anakreon’s Grab (1890) and Brahms’s Da Unter im Tal (1894), proof yet again that simplicity and restraint can be exquisite.

The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 online and on demand, later this Spring. If you hear strange ringing on the recording, it’s a mobile phone which rang at least four times. Accidents happen, so I won’t get irate. But it’s a reminder to switch off and double check every time without fail.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):