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The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
16 Dec 2011
Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall
Combining innate musicianship and superb technique, Anne Schwanewilms showed once again that she can run the emotional gamut from light-hearted joy to deep anguish in this flawless performance with pianist, Charles Spencer.
The songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn offered
Schwanewilms the opportunity to demonstrate a great range of characterisation
and dramatic situation, embracing intimacy and exuberance. She garnered a
surprising and delightful drollery in the opening ‘Um schlimme Kinder artig
zu machen’ (‘How to make naughty children behave’), her insouciant
‘cu-cuckoo’ ringing clear as a bell. Charles Spencer delivered the
accompaniment’s piquant chromatic inflections with a deft touch. The simple
folk-like ambience was sustained in the bucolic ‘Verlorne Müh’ (‘Wasted
effort’), as the shepherdess attempts to lure her mate, offering first to go
walking, then a ‘morsel’ from her basket and finally her heart. A glossy
tone and seamless, bel canto legato prevailed. I wondered whether that
this effortlessly fluency at times affected the clarity of diction; but the
German speaker accompanying me reassured me that Schwanewilms’ use of the
text was subtle but clear, and undoubtedly idiomatic.
In ‘Ablösung im Sommer’ (‘The changing of the summer guard’), the
cuckoo returned, this time evoked by the piano whose perpetuum mobile
signifies the evolutionary progression of the seasons — as the cuckoo sings
himself ‘to death’ and the nightingale assumes the mantle of summer’s
song-bearer. Both here and in the following ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ (‘I
walked joyfully’), Schwanewilms’ breath control was superb, enabling her to
shape extended rhapsodic lines; her velvet tone is a cloth of many colours, and
she captured the myriad hues of the natural world - the verdant softness of
the ‘green wood’, the silky sheen of the moon’s’ charming, sweet
Liszt’s setting of Hugo’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ permitted a brief
excursion into the French language, and Schwanewilms expressively and
convincingly responded to the text, before returning to her native tongue for
lieder from Schiler’s Wilhelm Tell, songs in which Liszt evokes the
Alpine landscape with grandeur and passion. The grassy lake in ‘Der
Fischerknabe’ (‘The fisherboy’) shimmered stilly, but as the waters lap
around his breast and call from the depth, increasingly impetuous scalic runs
in the piano conveyed the potency of his ‘bliss of delight’. ‘Horn
calls’ discreetly underpinned the beautifully resonant vocal line in ‘Der
Hirt’ (‘The shepherd’), and the juxtapositions of major and minor
tonalities enhanced the warm, tender ache in the voice. The more tempestuous
‘Der Alpenjäger’ (‘The alpine hunstman’), in which thunderous
tremblings accumulate, climaxed with a striking piano postlude. An intense and
impassioned setting of Heine’s ‘Loreley’ brought the Lisztian sequence to
a close, and enabled Schwanewilms once again to demonstrate her consummately
controlled delivery of narrative.
Four more songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn followed after the
interval. ‘Scheiden und Meiden’ (‘Farewell and Parting’) presents a
broader emotional and dramatic canvas; the first stanza depicts the breathless,
theatrical departure of three horsemen who gallop through the gate beneath the
beloved’s watchful gaze, while second strikes a more poignant note, exploring
the pain and finality of departure and death. The power and precision of
Schwanewilms’s climactic high notes in the first part contrasted with the
final farewells, 'Ade! Ade!’, which she delivered in a loving, almost
The cuckoo and nightingale both returned for ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’
(‘In praise of high intellect’), this time competing to be the prize
songster in a musical contest adjudicated by a donkey. Schwanewilms relished
the individual ‘voices’ given to each ‘character’, and concluded with
an alarmingly realistic ass’s bray! After the gentle ‘Rheinlegendechen’
(‘Little Rhine Legend’), in which the atmospheric rocking of the piano
accompaniment perfectly captured the lapping waters as they flow timelessly to
the ocean, in the final song from the sequence, ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten
blasen’(‘Where the splendid trumpets sound’) Schwanewilms displayed her
lustrous, rich tone to full effect, signifying a transition from the whimsical
naivety of Mahler’s early songs to the complex emotional profundities of the
composer’s five Rückert Lieder.
Here, Schwanewilms and her accompanist rose to majestic heights of
musicianship. The contemplative intimacy of ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’
(‘If you love for beauty’) was particularly stunning. Schwanewilms can
produce an effortless, floating line, spinning out a high thread of sound,
endlessly and ethereally until, almost weightlessly, the thrillingly tender
pianissimo disperses into the air. She balances eloquence and grace
with deep affective insight, as was supremely apparent in a spell-binding
rendition of ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At midnight’). Here, the sustained
focus of her lower range was in evidence, the controlled and crafted phrases
indicating the valiant endurance of the protagonist. The final song, ‘Ich bin
der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (‘I am lost to the world) probed expressive
depths, closing with a spine-chilling piano coda; the long silence which
subsequently embraced performers and audience alike was a testament to the epic
scale of the emotions evoked and communicated.
Schwanewilms seem to have it all: unfailingly precise intonation, a
polished, gleaming sound, almost superhuman breath control. She also has
considerable stage presence and self-assurance: utterly in command of the voice
and the material, she revealed a profound understanding of these songs while
retaining a sense of freshness and spontaneity. The communication between
singer and pianist, and with the audience, was sincere and generous. No wonder
the applause was rapturous.
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Um schlimme Kinder artig zu
machen; Verlorne Müh; Ablösung im Sommer; Ich ging mit Lust.
Liszt — Oh! quand je dors; Lieder aus Schillers ‘Wilhelm Tell’; Die
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Scheiden und Meiden; Lob des
hohen Verstandes; Rheinlegendchen; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. Five