lietofinelondon

Bruckner and Me.

In Classical Music, Review on April 26, 2016 at 6:34 pm

I’m hoping that everyone has a composer that, when they see his music listed in concerts, thinks “Hmmm, perhaps not”.

For me, it’s Anton Bruckner. Or at least his symphonies. I grew up singing his choral music as a choirboy but his orchesrtal music remains almost impenetrable to me. I’ve been to concerts of his symphones, bought recordings and entire box sets. And in the past, sat down – sometimes with score in hand and sometimes just sitting back – and listened.

To date, to no avail.

However, not one to be defeated and because I love the fact that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment refused to be pigeon-holed in the Eighteenth century, I went to their recent Bruckner, Brahms and Rott concert.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major is perhaps not his most oft performed and that was another reason for going. The theory that the ‘more unknown’ might be an advantage. I am acquainted with the more famous symphones – the Fourth, Eighth and Ninth for example – but perhaps tackling a lesser known one would help.

First of all, the OAE under Rattle played exquisitely. There was, it seemed to me a greater level transparency with the orchesrtal detail truly shining through without any loss of depth or weight. As ever, the OAE’s wind and brass brought their unique vibrancy and piquancy o the music and there was real lustre to the string tone, especially in the magically hushed Adagio. It was like one continuus love song – the highlight of the evening.

Rattle exercised complete authority as you would expect, coaxing a range of colours from the orchestra and maintaining a firm grip on the scale and architecture of each movement. And conducting without a score there was an intimacy to his performance that pulled you in.

So what was it, that by the end of the evening, had me thinking that while it was a good – if not excellent concert – I was still left slightly at odds Bruckner?

The playing was excellent. Rattle’s mastery beyond doubt. So that only leaves Bruckner’s music itself.

Thinking back perhaps I was listening too hard?

And that had me thinking. A very good friend who sadly passed away a few years back observed that with age, musical appreciation changes. Because of life experience. Music that you once didn’t cherish becomes more important. More relevant. You stop listening to the notes and something in the music resonates with you as a person. Your emotions, memories and, as he pointed out to me, what is happening in that instant in your life affect how you listen and what you are listening for.

It’s a no-brainer really. It’s surely like everything else in life. To my friend’s knowledge and insight of Mahler, plus his patience in me, I attribute my now unassailable love of everything that Mahler composed. And now, whenever I hear Mahler, and especially his Tenth Symphony, I remember and miss my friend.

So perhaps that is what I need. More age, time and experiences.

Four Play – Strauss in Berlin

In Classical Music, Opera, Richard Strauss on April 13, 2016 at 9:49 am

Four days of exceptional singing.

Four days of brilliant orchestral playing.

Four days and a full range of emotions.

Four days in Berlin for Elektra, Die Äegyptische Helena, Die Liebe der Danae and Der Rosenkavalier.

The standard of each performance was remarkably high. At times, incomparable.

It began and ended with two remarkable performances – Evelyn Herlitzius as Elektra and the Marschallin of Michael Kaune. Ms Herlitzius divides people like a Riesling. But whatever your taste, there’s no denying that her interpretation is both formidable and mesmerising. Not always vocally beautiful or precise, it is searing in its intensity, emotionally raging and matched by a dramatic commitment that is almost overwhelming. What is missing is the breadth of phrasing but it was nonetheless an exceptional performance. And in the ‘other corner’ of this emotional boxing match, Doris Soffel invested Klytemnestra with authority both regal and musical.

Replacing Anja Harteros, Michaela Kaune immediately erased any sense of disappointment with an incredibly memorable Marschallin – beautifully observed, musically intelligent and delicately nuanced. It was perhaps one of the finest interpretations I’ve heard in a while. Every word, each phrase carefully shaped and delivered. The result? She did suddenly look old at her levée; bitter and resentful of youth as she muttered about ‘Resi’ and without a doubt the wife of a Feldmarschall when she finally dismissed Ochs. Yet it was her performance in the final trio that was definitive. Her singing and her acting conveyed a simple fact – that her life was entering a new and final phase. One of loneliness. No more Octavians hiding in her bedchamber. It wasn’t resignation as much as defeat. Heartbreaking.

In Helena, Ricarda Merbeth and Laura Aiken were vocally resplendent, effortlessly riding the crest of Strauss rich and heady orchestration. Indeed in the opening of Act Two, Merberth’s post-coital vocal rapture not only matched that of the music but had me wondering she had abandoned Menelaus – wonderfully sung here by Stefan Vinke – for the boy Paris if the sex was so good? And as ever it was delightful to hear Ronnita Miller. When will we hear her in London, I wonder?

The real discovery of the four days was Daniela Sindram. Her Octavian went from swaggering seventeen year old to love struck teenager over three acts. Combined with real acting talent is a remarkably rich, burnished yet darkly hued mezzo that shows no sign of strain throughout its range. Definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Manuela Uhl and Mark Delavan both delivered conscientious performances. Delevan’s was both musical and dramatically confident but slightly underpowered. Uhl’s Chryosthemis failed to ignite the much needed desperation and her vocal line didn’t soar quite enough as others in the role. As Danae, and I saw her in exactly the same production a few years ago, she gave a beautifully nuanced performance but it took until the final act before she shone vocally.

As Der Rosenkavalier’s Sophie, Siobhan Stagg’s performance captured the young girl’s skittishness. I’ve also no doubt that the harsh edge to her voice will be ironed out as her voice develops further. When that happens, Ms Stagg could become a memorable Sophie.

Each and every other singer over the four nights was of an exceptionally high standard. Exceptional mention for Tobias Kehrer’s broodingly resonant Oreste, Michael Kupfer-Radecky’s patrician Faninal and the brightly voiced Midas of Raymond Very. All three particularly stood out in roles that more commonly suffer. It’s also easy to forget that Der Rosenkavalier is truly an ensemble opera and there were exceptionally strong performances across the board including Stephanie Lauricella as Annina, Fionnuala McCarthy’s Marianne and tenor Matthew Newlin.

It was also refreshing to sit through four intelligent, well-thought out productions.

Elektra, directed by Kirsten Harms, was couched in the inevitable doom and gloom of overwhelming tragedy. Enclosed by three walls, it was reminiscent of the garbage chute in Star Wars, especially as the ensemble spent a lot of time floundering around in the mud. Just once I’d like to see a bit more colour at Klytemnestra’s court. She’s a rich woman at the head of a corrupt and debauched court – you think she’d have some fun with it, wouldn’t you?

The Kismet-meets-Indiana Jones of Die Ägyptische Helena (Marco Arturo Marelli) was a visual delight. And xxx managed the shift from the more comedic opening to the closing pathos with great skill. And as Helena says farewell to Aithra and her cohorts, it felt that perhaps she wasn’t really going to completely give up her flirtatious ways, as Menelaus reaction also seemed to convey.

Strauss was often criticised for his commercial acumen. He fought hard to control the copyright of his music, and perhaps rightly so having witnessed the chaos of Wagner’s own attempts. The sheets-of-music-cum-shower-of-gold in Die Liebe Der Danae was a clear reference to this, as was the piano spinning ominously overhead throughout. Yet at the end, Danae willingly handed over the gold/music to Jupiter in exchange for eternal happiness with the donkey herder. Not sure Strauss would have agreed.

Götz Friedrich’s Der Rosenkavalier was first performed in 1993 and is ample demonstration that if a production works, why change it? It seamlessly brought together the worlds of 18th Century Vienna with the world that would have been more familiar to Strauss himself. I loved the fact that the ‘maskerade’ referred to by the Marschallin at the ended actually begun before the opera started. As mistress and lover dressed for their breakfast in Act One, they clearly donned outfits inspired by the commedia dell’arte. Another nice touch was when the Marschallin scented the silver rose in Da geht er hin – it added a certain frisson in the Second Act when Octavian smells the rose and then looks up at Sophie.

But it was the poignancy of this production that was most enduring – especially the final scene. After a ‘Ja, ja’ of resignation, the Marschallin stood in the background, destined only ever to observe Octavian from a distance. In some productions, there’s a lingering hope that Octavian might return to her. Not in this one. For director Friedrich, the Marschallin’s First Act view of men cruelly rings true.

The bedrock on which these four days rested was the superlative orchestral playing and singing of the Deutsche Oper. The players in the pit executed each opera perfectly on four successive nights – a testament not only to their stamina but also their knowledge and clearly evident love of the music. They were directed by a quartet of conductors with an intimate knowledge of every musical detail which enabled them not only to balance singers and the orchestra, but most importantly giving both time and space to breathe.

I’ve not always been a fan of Donald Runnicles but his Elektra revealed an incredible range of colours and sororities with a vigorous attention to rhythmic detail. Andrew Litton veritably wallowed and revelled in the lush and sensuous sound world of Helena, finding a muscularity to it but never letting it swamp singers or players alike. Sebastian Weigle brought a transparency to the score of Danae – rarely have I heard the opening of the final act played with such luminosity. And while Rosenkavalier got off to an unsteady start, control was quickly asserted, with each and every waltz theme given loving attention.

In all, an incredible four days. Yet it’s hard not to bemoan the quality of musical life beyond London. I know funding is different, but it’s a shame that our own government doesn’t recognise the value – both cultural and economic – of a serious commitment to the arts and arts education.

Similarly it’s hard not to wonder how artistically Berlin gets it so right, and more often than not our own opera houses – both of them – get it so, so wrong.

 

 

Habe Dank!

In Review, Richard Strauss on April 10, 2016 at 8:24 am

Review – Renée Fleming ( Barbican, Wednesday 6 April 2016) 

Renée Fleming (Soprano) & Hartmann Höll (Piano) 

For some reason, this felt like a valedictory concert. I sincerely hope not. I know that Renée Fleming is drawing a curtain on her stage performances but I’m hoping that she will continue recitals for many, many years to come. 

Entitled “Love, loss and fury” the selection of lieder ran the whole gamut of human emotion. Perhaps overall there was more love and loss, than fury except for the somewhat inevitable comment on Donald Trump. 

Ms Fleming’s introduction prior to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben stated that she had only recently started performing this cycle. Overall it was a convincing performance but I think that it will get even better over time. With more involvement and projection of the text and perhaps less emotional constraint this could very well become a centrepiece of Ms Fleming’s future recital repertoire. 

The Rachmaninov that followed was much more emphatic and much more alive. Setting the scene immediately with O, dolgo budu ya (In the silence of the secret night), Ne poy, krasavitsa, primne was the highlight of the first half, demonstrating Ms Fleming’s innate ability to spin out the most beautiful legato line. 

The second half was dedicated to two of the soprano’s passions – Richard Strauss and new music. 

Jazz musician and composer Patricia Barber’s set of songs demonstrate a confident and mature talent. Perhaps some of the songs could do with being slightly tightened and it would potentially be interesting to hear these restored for a smaller chamber ensemble. Of the five songs, it was Morpheus which was the most memorable. With its insistent repeated note buried under rich textures, it most closely captured the words being sung. 

Yet it was the Strauss, here and in the encore, which stole the entire evening. Ms Fleming has had a career-long love affair with Richard Strauss. Some may disagree with me, but she is one of the best interpreters of his lieder performing today. Vocally, they fit like a glove and emotionally, she invests more in his lieder and operas than in other music. Each song was exquisite in its performance. The skittishness of Das Bächlein was perfectly captured, and there was some stunning colouring from Hartmann Höll in Ruhe, Meine Seele. The sense of loss and nostalgia in Allerseelen – perhaps one of Strauss’ most beautiful lieder – was almost tangible and contrasted so perfectly with the triumphant, blazing Zueignung

Three contrasting encores ended the recital. After a sultry Summertime and a faultless O, mio babbino caro the only way to end the evening was with Strauss. And Morgen!, Strauss’ wedding gift to his difficult wife was the only and perfect choice. Here, as throughout the evening, Höll showed himself to be an intuitive, insightful and sympathetic accompanist and Ms Fleming’s performance of this gem reminded everyone in the hall not only of her love for this composer, but also what an exceptional performer she is. 

Habe Dank Ms Fleming and come back soon.

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