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 Performances

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
05 Jul 2015

Late Schumann in context — Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels.

Robert Schumann, Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, Wigmore Hall, London 2nd July 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]

 

Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Goerne and Pressler walked onto the Wigmore Hall platform arm in arm, because Pressler, at 91 years of age, needs a bit of support to walk. But there was no mistaking the warmth of their relationship. Although they’d planned to end their recital with Schumann Dichterliebe op 48, they made a last-minute decision to place it first, for reasons that became clear later.

Dichterliebe was Schumann’s gift of love to Clara, celebrating their marriage after years of opposition, which included civil litigation against her father. Hardly a “normal” courtship. It’s hardly surprising that music poured out of Schumann in a torrent of excited ecstasy. This Dichterliebe was decidedly individual. The pace was brisk, the songs flowing into each other, highlighting the sudden, extreme swings of mood from one song to another almost colliding. Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube felt almost manic. Goerne’s voice is flexible enough that the words tumbled out effortlessly even though the pace suggested tongue twister: “Die kleine, die Feine, die Reine die Eine”. On paper, Heine;’s poems are impressive, but Schumann’s settings add a filter which is highly individual, and not comfortable. They are big “R” Romantic, rather than coy, little “r” romantic. There’s a huge difference.

Pressler.pngMenahem Pressler

Goerne’s Ich grolle nicht chilled the heart. “I bear no grudge” the text insists, but Goerne’s growl in the word “grolle” grates with menace. The “s” and “z” sound in the phrase “und sahe die Schlang’, die dir am Herzen frißt.” bit with venom. It’s ironic that so many of the songs in this garland of love deal with grief and loss, the “dream” songs the most unsettling of all, with their intuitive grasp of subconscious forces. Pressler’s approach was unorthodox, but psychologically astute. Most Lieder fans have heard so many Dichterliebes in the past that this very singular interpretation was much more interesting than something safe or standard.

Picking up on the theme of dreams in Dichterliebe Pressler then played Schumann’s Variations on a theme in E flat WoO 24, the Geister Variations” (1854) Written a week before Schumannn tried to drown himself in the Rhine, the variations are based on a theme he had dreamed about, telling Clara that he’d heard it sung by angels, and telling a friend that it had been sent to him by Schubert. One thinks of the half-forgotten dream in Allnächtlich im Traume in Dichterliebe, with its phrase “....und’s Wort hab’ich vergessen”. The sombre hymn-like mood reflects that of Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome from Dichterliebe. Heine’s text links the image of the Virgin Mary with the idea of the poet’s lover. But Schumann’s setting is inexplicably dark and ponderous, describing the waves of the river as ominous forces. In the context of what was happening to Schumann when he wrote the Variations, the hypnotic pull of the waves in the song is chilling.

This theme of delusional grandeur also puts Schumann’s op 89 (1850), settings of poems by Wilfried von der Neun, “Wilfred of The Nine”, meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote “the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one.”

Sams is the source to go for studying these songs, since he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör’ ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe. Sams said “Schumann’s memory is playing him tricks”. By pairing these songs with the Geister Variations, Goerne and Pressler are making a powerful case for coming to terms with Schumann’s later work. Texts like Es stürmet am Abendhimmel lend themselves to dramatic treatment but it would be wrong to suggest that they should be performed as faux Wagner. Schumann knew very well who Wagner was, but he had his own ideas about musical drama. which we need to respect if we are to fully appreciate his place in music history. Goerne and Pressler know their Schumann well enough to let us hear Schumann as Schumann, without distortion or special pleading. These may not be Schumann’s finest moments, but they’re still authentic and personal. Because this performance was so good, and so sensitive to Schumann’s inner world, we could understand something, perhaps of what Schumann might have been going through in his long last illness. In Ins Freie, the poet cries out “Mir ist’s so eng allüberall!” He imagines he can escape “aus düstrer Mauern bangem Ring “ through songs. But the song ends with the same frustrated cry, which Goerne sang with heartfelt anguish, not play-acting histrionics, but sincere identification with the frustration Schumann might have felt as his mind closed in on him.

Schumann’s Poems of Nikolaus Lenau op 90 (1850) were written in August 1850, barely three months after the von der Neun set, but are altogether more accomplished, since the poetry of Lenau (1802- August 22nd 1850) was on a level to bring out the best in a composer extraordinarily responsive to good literature. The poems Schumann set were published in 1838, so Schumann would have known him as a contemporary and heard of the psychotic attack Lenau suffered in 1844, which led to his being incarcerated in an asylum for the rest of his short life. Promise, cut down too soon: rather uncomfortably close to Schumann’s own situation.

Die Sennin is beautifully lyrical,with lilting harmonies that evoke warm breezes and the freedom of nature. One can almost imagine cow bells. The girl sings so beautifully that even the Felsenseelen (the souls of mountain rocks) echo her song. One day she’ll be gone but her songs live on in the memory of the crags. In Eisamkeit, silence hangs over a forest, Herz (the poet’s) is alone. Pressler plays the circular forms in the piano so they cradle Goerne’s tenderly. “Deine Lieber Gott versteht”

Leaving Schumann’s Requiem which rounds off Op. 90 off the programme worked out well, as it concentrated attention on Dichterliebe and on its connections with the lesser-known late works, and on Schumann’s inner life. In any case, the text is not Lenau. Since the mid 19th century, we’ve learned more about mental illness and can be more understanding. I wish, however, that Goerne and Pressler had done Lied eines Schmeid (Op 90) A little horse never lets the blacksmith down. Its steady trudging rhythm may seem simple, but in its own charming way, it’s a hymn for the faithful. To a horse! In its sincerity, it would have been a happy coda to Goerne and Pressler’s sensitive approach to Schumann’s later years. The concert was being recorded. Goerne and Pressler will repeat it at the Verbier Festival on July 22nd.

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):