Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

02 Nov 2014

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall - Liszt, Strauss and Schubert

Any Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau performance is superb, but this Wigmore Hall recital surprised, too. Boesch's Schubert is wonderful, but this time, it was his Liszt and Strauss songs which stood out. This year at the Wigmore Hall, we've heard a lot of Liszt and a lot of Richard Strauss everywhere, establishing high standards, but this was special.

Florian Boesch, Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, London

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

In Lieder, it's not enough just to sing well. A true Lieder artist conveys meaning not only through words but through the way the music connects to ideas. Composers often set poets who were contemporary or near contemporary. Lieder was an art form for people who were fairly well read and interested in intellectual discourse. Boesch is maturing beautifully. His lower register has a rich, burnished sheen, enhancing the natural agility in his voice. Yet what makes Boesch, for Lieder specialists, the most exciting singer of his generation is the way he combines musical instincts with intelligence.

Liszt's Lieder are the songs of a composer whose true voice lives in the piano. Texts matter, but though they don't fly with the effortless glory of Schubert and Schumann. Boesch's commitment to meaning enhances balance. In Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam (S309/1, c 1855) the piano's sparkling, twinkling figures describe snowfall and starlight, a lovely image. For Liszt, though, the atmosphere is magic, and we marvel in its beauty. Heine's poem, however, is ironic. The spruce is alone, dissociated from its environment, and dreams of a palm tree "fern im Morgenland". How can this be, botanically ? The unsentimental firmness of Boesch's delivery reminds us that this isn't a "nature" song. With hardly a pause, Boesch and Martineau began Es muß ein Wunderbares sein (S34 1857). (What a miracle it must be, when two souls are entwined by love.) Oskar von Redwitz, the poet, doesn't have Heine's acerbic bite, but the two songs enhance each other when done as a pair. Like the image of the trees! Boesch and Martineau followed with O Lieb'; so lang du lieben kannst (S298/2 1843-50, Ferdinand Freiligrath).(O Love, as long as you are able) Liszt's lilting, circular figures suggest continuity, but Boesch doesn't minimize the pain in the last strophe "Bald ist ein bõses Wort gesatg! O gott ! " (pause) "es war bõs gemeint!" (an even more pained pause) "Der ander aber geht und klagt". Boesch sings the word "klagt" so the hard consonants tear, as if the lover's heart is being ripped. The pretty postlude now seems to emphasize the lover's desolation.

Loreley, (S273/11841) is thus enhanced. "Ich weiss nicht, was so esbedeuten" writes Heine "dass ich so traurig bin", when he describes the Lorelei combing her lovely hair with a golden comb, luring boatmen to their deaths. The delicacy of Boesch's singing echoed the maiden's beauty, and made me, at least, wonder if she. too, might be feeling pain: perhaps she doesn't want to kill, perhaps she's doomed, too, if she dreams of love. In Vergiftet sind mein Lieder (S289/1844-9, Heine) (My songs are poisoned), the poet blames his bitterness on his lover who poured poison into his "blühende Leben". Again, the imagery of doomed youth and nature. "Serpents dwell in my heart", the poem continues "und dich, Geliebte mein". The poem is "poisoned" but the beauty of Boesch's singing emphasized the love that inspired it.

Boesch and Martineau ended with Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh' (S306/2 1859, Goethe). The Romantiker turmoil of the earlier songs dissolves into Goethe's image of stillness."warte nur, warte nur, Ruhest du auch". Not so much rest, as death. For an encore, Boesch sang Schubert's setting of the same poem. "So I don't have to learn the same words twice", he said with a grin. Liszt's setting is more solemn than Schubert's. but the words "warte nur" are repeated so often, even accompanied by the tolling of "bells" in the piano part, that the effect is depersonalized. Schubert's Wandrers Nachtlied (D768) is more subtle, more magical, and more mysterious. With this unusual combination, Boesch,and Martineau made a case for Liszt as a composer of true Lieder in the Romantic tradition, yet also made us appreciate Liszt as a pianist who wrote art song.

For their selection of songs by Richard Strauss, Boesch and Martineau restricted themselves to early works from the period 1885-9, with one song from four years later. Again, heard together, the songs form an unusual set with insight into the development of Strauss as composer of Lieder, as opposed to composer of sublime art songs. Adolphe Friedrich von Schack (1815-94) was a pillar of Munich's artistic establishment. In Breit' über mein Haupt (op 19/2 1888), a beauty lets her dark hair fall over the face of her lover and blocks out the world beyond. Consider the similarities between Schack's poem and Paul Heyse's translation of the Spanish poem, In dem Schatten meinen Locken, set by Brahms and by Hugo Wolf at almost the same time as Strauss set von Schack. Both poets were fascinated by the East and the dreams it symbolized. One can hear what a young Münchener like Strauss would have responded to. This was the era from which the Munich Secession evolved, with its ethos of exoticism, modernity and freedom. In this song, perhaps one can think ahead to Strauss's collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Boesch and Martineau performed two songs to poems by Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg (1812-64), Die Nacht (op 10/3 ) and Allerseelen (op 10/8, 1885). Boesch sang Die Nacht with refinement and brought elegant poise to Allerseelen. Martineau's gentle playing evoked the "duftenden Reseden", the last flowers of summer, and the image of secret, silent glances, amplified by Boesch's immaculate phrasing and hushed tones. In contrast, Boesch and Martineau presented two other songs, All' mein Gedanlen (op 21/1 1889 Felix Dahn) and Ruhe meine Seele! (op 27/1, 1894, Karl Henkell). Strictly speaking All' mein Gedanlen isn't a "new" song but a Minnelied first published in the Lochamer Liederbuch of 1460. Like the more famous version by Johannes Brahms in his 49 Volkslieder (1994), Strauss's version respects the pure, clean lines. Boesch can do simplicity as well as richness.

Strauss's Ruhe, mein Seele (op 27/1 1894, Karl Henkell) is so lovely that it could rank with Wolf, yet is so ahead of its time that we can hear in it the germ of later Strauss. It could be a companion piece to Vier letzte Lieder both in subject and the maturity of its style. A few discreet but emphatic chords from the piano from whence the voice part emerges. The vocal phrases are short, six or eight measures in each line, the piano part equally restrained. Martineau's piano sang short, sparkling figures, describing the sunshine which steals through the dark canopy of leaves in the silent wood, where "nicht ein Lüftchen regt sich leise". In this song. a singer can't hide. Boesch sang with absolute sincerity, each word clear and emotionally direct.

Boesch and Martineau completed their recital with a selection of Schubert Lieder, exquisiitely and intelligently performed, as always. But the real surprises of the evening were the Liszt and Strauss sets, very well chosen and presented, which revealed so much about the composers and their niche in the genre .

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):