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

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

BBC Prom 39
15 Aug 2017

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

BBC Prom 39

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sally Matthews, Kazushi Ozo, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Mihoko Fujimura

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou,

 

At this Proms performance, the first outside Japan, soloists soprano Sally Matthews and mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura were joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Finchley Children’s Music Group and the New London Children’s Choir under the baton of Kazushi Ozo, who conducted the premiere in November 2016.

Ozo drew fine and committed performances from all involved but I found this work ‘of commemoration, consolation and contemplation’ rather unengaging and unaffecting. This is partly, I think, because Turnage’s seven movements place assorted contexts and circumstances side by side - a natural disaster, a WWII bombing raid, the deaths of innocent children, the tragic culmination of a love-suicide Bunraku play - without convincingly making such moments cohere, and without really penetrating through the cultural surface. What does a tsunami have to do with an incendiary raid on Tokyo? How can a chain of six musical ‘threnodies’ offer any real consolation for such terrible loss of life of an almost unimageable scale? And, what are we to make of the ‘Suntory’ Dance which they frame - is it a celebration, a dramatization, a ritual?

Moreover, what sort of musical language and form should any such ‘consolation’ assume? Turnage’s orchestral score is characteristically lively, with syncopations vying with jazzy grooves, and the large orchestra - especially the percussion and brass - is exploited to kaleidoscopic effect. There are also meditative vocal passages which offer contrast. But there’s a disjuncture between Turnage’s orchestral vernacular and the texts presented in four of the movements, which range from English translations of various Japanese texts - Sō Sakon’s ‘Hashitte iru’ (Running) and an excerpt from Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The Love Suicides at Sonezaki - to, conversely, the Japanese variant of the nursery rhyme, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ - ‘Kira, kira hikaru’.

The first two movements are orchestral though, and depict two prefectures - Iwate and Miyagi - which were hit by the 2011 tsunami. ‘Iwate’ starts with a repetitive, fragmented pattern which, picked up by the brass and percussion, rapidly escalates into a dynamic whirl of high woodwind and trumpet contrasted with swelling strings. Dove-tailed blocks of sound provide unceasing variety of texture, until the ominous pounding of the timpani threatens disintegration, and spaces open up with low growling trombone juxtaposed with piercing piccolo. A jazzy syncopation suggests a grotesque dance of death which spins into oblivion. ‘Miyagi’ opens quietly; eerie moans creak and float over the sound string lines, presaging the disturbing, violent orchestral stabs which fracture the silence.

The two soloists are introduced in the third movement and present Sō Sakon’s poem, from his collection Mother Burning, which describes his experience as a child of trying to escape - ‘running through the sea of fire a road of fire’ - after the death of his mother in an incendiary raid in 1945. The dancing trumpet heralds a siren, marking the two soloists’ anxious repetitions of ‘running’ and ‘mother’ which build to a panicking climax. Both Matthews and Fujimura projected their short intertwining phrases with power and focus against the brass outbursts - suggestive of roaring, surging flames - until subsumed by a clamouring orchestral wave.

The solo clarinet coaxed the children’s chorus into a sweet-toned rendition of the nursery rhyme, the brightness of the vocal colour and the sparseness of the orchestration serving to cleanse away the violence of the preceding movement, as the celestial body offers assurance to star-gazers and guidance to night-time travellers. The unfolding stanzas were accompanied by increasingly animated textures, culminating with Matthews’ glowing statement of wonder at the nature and significance of the bright and tiny spark.

The ‘Suntory Dance’ followed, starting darkly but gradually stirring up primal energies and skipping exchanges between percussion, low strings and horns. Both Turnage and the BBCSO players showed their rhythmic precision and virtuosity in this inventive dance which, even when full brass shone forth and the violins soared high, never quite assumed a celebratory air. (An incidental side-note: Hibiki, or ‘Japanese Harmony’ is a brand name of a blended Suntory Whisky, which the renowned distiller remarks ‘was launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary, and has ever since been embraced as the paragon of The Art of Japanese Whisky, the very product of Japanese nature and her people’ - which if nothing else demonstrates the potential for cultural misappropriate and disjuncture.)

Fujimura sang ‘On the Water’s Surface’ with beautifully shaped phrasing which captured the melancholic rapture of the text, enhanced by sensitive clarinet solos and underpinned by nudging bass gestures. There is a coolness about the instrumental timbre, fittingly so, for this time the stars lead to the ‘joy beyond extinction’. The elegiac mood was sustained in the final section, ‘Fukushima’, in which the children’s chorus spun melismatic repetitions of the name of nuclear power plant which, following the tsunami, experienced three nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen-air explosions resulting in the release of radioactive material second in quantity only to the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. It certainly made for a meditative end, but the children could really have been repeating any single word to produce the same effect.

In the first half of the Prom, we heard two French impressionist masterpieces, but neither quite made their full mark. Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d’un faune was beautifully played - delicate, precious, silkily assuaging - but conveyed little of the emotional highs and lows of the narrative of the faun’s insouciant pan-pipe gambolling, rapturous arousal by the passing nymphs and naiads, and exhausted abandonment to vision-fuelled sleep. It’s almost impossible for Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto not to win over an audience and, making his Proms debut, Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan gave a refined performance of effortless virtuosity, skipping lightly through the fancy passagework. But, while Barnatan’s technique may be flawless, Ozo needed to draw a dash more jazzy vitality from the BBCSO to balance the lyrical wistfulness. The ‘Classical’ simplicity of the slow movement worked its unaffected charm, and the cor anglais provided the requisite nostalgic tints, but the whip-crack buzz was missing from the finale. It took an encore - Mendelssohn’s Rondo capriccioso in E major Op.14 - for us to have opportunity to enjoy Barnatan’s full expressive range and depth, from elegance to bombast, from majesty to impishness.

One other small observation to conclude: the expressive narrative and unity of both Ravel’s concerto and Turnage’s Hibiki were disrupted by the Prommers’ habit of applauding every movement. Concentration and coherence are both aided by silence.

Claire Seymour

Prom 39: Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d’un faune; Ravel - Piano Concerto in G major; Mark-Anthony Turnage - Hibiki (European première)

Inon Barnatan (piano), Sally Matthews (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Kazushi Ono (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Finchley Children’s Music Group, New London Children’s Choir .

Royal Albert Hall, London; Monday 14th August 2017.

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):