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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..
09 Jan 2013
Hugo Wolf Songbooks, Wigmore Hall, Kirchschlager, Henschel, Drake
Julius Drake's latest Hugo Wolf Songbooks recital at the Wigmore Hall featured Angelika Kirchschlager and Dietrich Henschel. These singers have very different voices indeed, so Drake's programme made the most of the contrast.
The logic behind the song selections revealed itself as the recital progressed, but the evening started with five Mörike songs which Kirchschlager sings so well. Her distinctive, warm timbre adds depth to Wolf's songs, bringing out the sensuality fundamental to their interpretation. When Kirchschlager sings Wolf, there's nothing precious or effete, even when, as in Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchen, the girl is so young that she cries "Grief ich eine Schlange" while less innocent ears know what she's really snared in her net. Kirchschlager's forte is natural graciousness. She's ideal in Wolf because she's subtle, capturing the delicate charm beneath which Mörike shields dangerous thoughts. In Das verlassene Mägdlein, Wolf writes turbulence into the piano part, expressing the emotional tempest the servant girl feels even though she's attending dutifully to her job. On this occasion, Kirchschlager was singing into words, as if the songs were a vehicle for hochdramatischer grand opera. She's good enough that she was still enjoyable, but it's not her usual style, nor one particularly suited to these songs.
Perhaps this concert was an experiment in turning Wolf's songs into theatre. It's perfectly reasonable to group Wolf's settings of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister poems into a kind of narrative. The saga is so well known that most listeners understand where the songs belong. Kirchschlager, Henschel and Drake presented the three Harfenlieder songs (plus Spottlied) with the three Mignon songs, withPhiline and Kennst du Das Land.
This was a welcome chance to enter into the world of the strange old harper and Mignon. Mignon is very young, but has a horrible backstory of abuse. Kennst du das Land is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, but part of its impact comes from the intense emotions it evokes, emotions almost too extreme to be expressed by a child. Sorrow is central to her personality. "Nun wer die Sensucht kennt, weiss, was ich leide!". The rcihness of Kirchschlager's voice suggests that there are mysteries to Mignon's personality which we may never know. When she sings the downward phrases at the end of Mignon 1 ("und nur ein Gott"), her voices seems to swoon. Julius Drake shows how the phrase is replicated in the piano part, the piano reinforcing what Mignon cannot tell.
In some repertoire, a voice like Dietrich Henschel's is an advantage. Recently he sang Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Ich wandte mich um und sah an alles Unrecht (Ecclesiastical Action) for Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall (read review here) where the harsh, apocalyptic subject requires a singer who can sing forcefully, often in tricky, disjointed phrases. Henschel sang that well, but singing Wolf is a different prospect.. Henschel was acceptable in the Harfenspieler songs, because Goethe deliberately contrasts the ravaged Harper with the angelic Mignon. In the earlier part of the recital, with other Goethe settings, like Prometheus and Grenzen der Menscheit his singing as marred by excessively wide dynamics. Phrases were pulled out of shape, harsh vibrato overcompensating for dry tone. It didn't help that Julius Drake pounded ferociously. He's one of the best pianists for song but here gave his singer no quarter. Henschel's good enough to know when things aren't going well for whatever reason. When Kirchschalger finished singing Philine, Henschel remarked on the final lines "Jeder Tag hat seine Plage, und die Nacht hat ihre Lust". Everyone has bad days sometimes. He then approached Spottlied with gruff good humour, defusing some of the bitter envy in the text, which is a perfectly valid interpretation.
Hugo Wolf been called the "Wagner of the Lied" but this refers to the way he rethought the relationship between poetry and song. Indeed, Wolf's sensitivity to miniature nuances precludes Wagnerian treatment. While it was good to hear the Wilhelm Meister songs together, they aren't music theatre but songs to be sung as lyrically as is reasonable. The encore was Leopold Lenz (1803-62) Nun wer die Sensucht kennt., for two voices and piano.