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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..
27 Jul 2012
Pierre Boulez : Le marteau sans maître BBC Proms
Pierre Boulez Le marteau sans maître is important as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, says conductor François-Xavier Roth, who conducted it with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in BBC Prom 17.
Ironically, though Daniel Barenboim's Proms series features Beethoven, its greatest achievement long term may be bringing Boulez to mainstream audiences. Barenboim is a man of courage and principle. He's confronted social injustice, and now he's challenging musical prejudice.
Although the singer (Hilary Summers) sings in only four of the nine sequences of Boulez's Le marteau sans maître , it is a work infused with the concept of voice, a kind of meta-song. "Whereas Pierrot Lunaire is a theatre piece with instrumental accompaniment, the voice always prepondering," said Boulez in a description of the piece. "Le marteau sans maître stems from the cell of a poem which is eventually absorbed in toto". As a young man, Boulez was drawn to the poetry of René Char and wrote three major cycles based on his work. "Le marteau sans maître is thus crucial to any understanding of Boulez's output.
Char was a surrealist In his poetry, images are compressed, as if by homeopathic distillation. The poet's brief phrases don't reveal meaning in the usual sense, but force the reader to respond intuitiuvely. "Sudddenly", said Boulez, "You recognize yourself.... the illuminating paragraph seems simultaneously to take possession of you, and to increase your potential, your grasp and your power beyond anything you had dreamed possible".
In Le marteau sans maître, Char's words are crystalized still further so their very relationship with obvious meaning dissolves into the music itself, like a droplet spreading concentric cirles in a pool of water. Words are used for musical quality, such as alliteration. Boulez specifies that the singer is not a soloist. She sits with the ensemble, so the flow between players is uninterrupted. At the end, she intones abstract sound, almost the sound of body rhythms, and the flute (Guy Eshed) sings on her behalf, as had the viola (Ori Kam) before It's significant that Char was anti-fascist long before the German occupation. On a very deep level, Boulez is reiterating Char's beliefs in the value of the individual against the mass. He uses a strict, almost mathematical structure of three internal cycles within the nine pieces and other more subtle interrelationships. From this almost ritual formality, however, springs freedom of invention. Hence, the concept of hammer without a master.
Yet how that "hammer" is wielded ! Instead of blasts of massed brass and percussion, the "aural violence" of the orchestral palette, Boulez uses a small ensemble, where instruments are carefully balanced in terms of pitch and timbre. Lines are short, with lively traceries of individual notes rather than full tutti. Nor does he demand Lachenmann-esque distortions. These players aren't there to show off, but to co-operate. Boulez also emplys instruments that suggest, but don't copy, instruments from non-western cultures. The guitar (Caroline Delume), suggesting the Japanese koto, xylomarimba (Adrian Salloum) and vibraphone (Pedro Manuel Torrejon Gonzales) suggesting gamelan and the African balafon. They exist, not as exotics, because they can express the non-dogmatic nature of the piece and its sparkling fragments, merrily moving together. Even the percussion (Noya Schleien) employs no heavy timpani but a brushes, a gong, maracas, bongos. On this occasion I was struck by how Le marteau sans maître picks up on Messiaen's concepts. In a dawn chorus, many birds sing, but each is individual, and an astute listener can pick them out. In many ways Le marteau sans maître is also a precursor of Messiaen's Sept Haïkaï.
By choosing to showcase Le marteau sans maître in this Proms series, Barenboim is again making an extra-musical statement. This piece gives the musicians much more room to engage than the more complex Dérive 2 at the start of the series and it much more suited to their strengths. Performance is a journey not an end in itself, as a deep reading of this piece might suggest. François-Xavier Roth is a charismatic, slightly eccentric personality (in the best creative sense). He's sensitive to Boulez's idiom, and his rapport with the players was good. In Le marteau sans maître, everyone's a player if they're listening.