Posts Tagged ‘Classical Music’

Twerp it.

In Opera, Review on September 30, 2018 at 9:25 am

Review – Salome (English National Opera, Friday 28 September 2018)

Salome – Allison Cook
Jokanaan – David Soar
Herod – Michael Colvin
Herodias – Susan Bickley
Narraboth – Stuart Jackson
Page – Clare Presland
Jews – Daniel Norman, Christopher Turner, Amar Muchhala, Alun Rhys-Jenkins and Jonathan Lemalu
Nazarenes – Robert Winslade Anderson and Adam Sullivan
Soldiers – Simon Shibambu and Ronald Nairne

Dancers – Corey Annand, Kazmin Borrer, Hannah Flynn, Iona Kirk and Nicole Neolove

Director – Adena Jacobs
Designer – Marg Horwell
Lighting Designer – Lucy Carter
Choreographer – Melanie Lane

Conductor – Martyn Brabbins

It was somewhat ironic that the most successful moment in ENO’s new production of Salome, was the precise moment when other productions have usually not been as effective. Namely, Salome’s Dance.

But here, Adena Jacobs pitched it almost perfectly. A pity, as the rest of the evening failed in all but three instances, completely flat. Salome should disgust, excite and ultimately leave you feeling slightly queasy. This production left me totally cold.

This was a shame as it opened with such promise. The clarion-like tenor of Stuart Jackson floated beautifully out into the auditorium. No hint of strain, his mellifluous tenor, coupled with crystal clear diction was a joy to listen to. I’m not quite sure why he was made out to be a cocaine addict (if that was what his bleeding nose was meant to infer), but his was one of only two completely coherent and three dimensional characters in the entire production.

The second was the magnificent Susan Bickley. Her Herodias was superb. Vocally secure coupled with incredible acting that was wonting in the rest of the Antipas family. Whenever she was on stage, her commanding presence was formidable. Finally, all credit to the Jokanaan of David Soar. I was relieved when he shucked his stilettos and his singing was impassioned and wonderfully coloured. There were moments when I almost though the Messiah would arrive on stage.

Sadly, the rest of the cast only passed muster. This Salome is clearly a work in progress with some moments of promise in Allison Cook’s performance. Musically, her diction was, like the rest of the cast, impeccable. However, while there was much to admire in her singing, all too often it was either underpowered – more overwhelmed by Brabbins’ conducting – or under the note. The use of Sprechstimme in this role adds depth to the portrayal but the singer must also have laser-like precision of each and every note. Dramatically, this production couldn’t decide ‘who’ Salome was. The transition from waif-like princess through petulant child to suicide and/or victim was not wholly convincing.

Similarly, her step-father fidgeted from crazy to petulant to spoiled without first anchoring the character with any coherence.  Indeed, from the onset it seemed that direction from the director was rather hit and miss, focusing on individual dramatic peaks in isolation rather that providing an overall narrative syntax.

From the headless My Little Pony complete with guts made of a comfort blanket, to Herod’s Santa sack, the production team seemed to have approached the opera as a bag of tricks and symbols to be thrown across the stage haphazardly. The most striking and effective scenes were those with Jokanaan despite the all too obvious emasculating stilettos.

So it was a surprise, and a relief that this production offered a coherent and uncomfortable Dance. From Salome’s sexualised poses reminiscent of the kinds of portrayals we see in mainstream media everyday to the tweaking of the four dancers was both riveting as well as almost too uncomfortable to watch. So a shame that the Dance was so unsupported by particularly lacklustre and sterile playing as I’ve ever heard from ENO’s orchestra. The closing scene, with some of the most erotic and evocative music ever written was dramatically undermined by having Salome not reveal Jokanaan’s head. There is nothing remotely erotic or shocking about singing to a plastic bag. Therefore, it felt like the final denouement – rather non sensical as it wasn’t derived from any of the narrative that proceeded it – was bolted on simply to provide a frisson of shock.

Surprisingly, in terms of the orchestral playing, I was disappointed by the ENO orchestra. Their usual lustre and brilliance was missing, and Brabbins more often than not failed to find the right balance between the pit and the stage.

Salome should be a tough opera to watch a well as to listen to. The sensuality and brutality of the music should elicit an uneasy emotional response; and the drama doesn’t need to be overtly shlocking to shock. Read the rest of this entry »


A Very Shakespearean Wagner

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Lohengrin, Bayerische Oper, Munich, July 2011

• Kristinu Sigmundson – Heinrich der Vogler
• Lohengrin – Peter Seiffert
• Elsa von Brabant – Emily Magee
• Friedrich von Telramund – Evgeny Nikitin
• Ortrud – Waltraud Meier
• The Herald – Martin Gantner

• Director – Richard Jones
• Designer & Lighting – Ultz
• Conductor – Kent Nagano

The Nationaltheater in Munich, home of the Bayerische Oper, is a beautiful building. The impressive exterior, and marble halls hide an exquisite gold gilt auditorium contrasted with pinks and reds. It was the perfect setting for this memorable performance of Lohengrin.

Admittedly I initially came for this performance to see two of my favourite sopranos – Adrienne Pieczonka and Waltraud Meier – but on the night the role of Elsa was performed by American soprano, Emily Magee.

I best start with the production itself. This was by Richard Jones and his common production partner, the singularly-named Ultz. I’ve seen many productions directed by this pair. The most memorable was The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant at English National Opera. It was an unusual choice and, despite what many said, a brave and creative decision. If only ENO would take creative risks like that now rather than assuming or rather hoping that plucking a random director will work. Not only did Petra capture a real sense of ‘a time’ but Jones’ trademarks – attention to detail and most importantly, a real effort made to engage with and work with the singers to analyse their characters and develop real, tangible personalities – was evident throughout. And the same attention to detail shone through brightly in Munich.

The production itself was – to say the least – quirky, another Jones/Ultz hallmark – but enjoyable and thought-provoking. When it premiered it drew a great deal of criticism. I can’t pretend to have unlocked Jones’ intention so what I write here is my own interpretation.

This definitely wasn’t a ‘traditional’ production of Lohengrin. In a sense this was a ‘voyeurs’ production. From the start, even as the audience came into the auditorium, Jones had the action unfolding on stage. Before the prelude, a single draftsman working on a building plan; Ortrud alone before the Second Act; and finally a fully completed shell of a house, complete with flowery border. All that was missing was the white picket fence. But I’m pretty sure it was in the audiences imagination as it was so clearly in mine.

In a sense the stage was also ‘naked’. There was a single curtain backdrop towards the front of the stage to create the King’s court. As a result everything felt ‘temporary’ which of course is, in some ways, a theme of the opera. Lohengrin never intends to stay. He is merely the catalyst for events that need to happen to ‘cleanse’ Brabant.

Because in Jones’ mind, Brabant is a damaged place. The Orwellian Herald further underlined Brabant’s sinister aspect. Gottfried, Elsa’s brother is missing. After the prelude, the chorus shuffle on. The setting is anonymous. The costumes made hints at eras but nothing is clear, nor clean cut. The men are in branded Brabant jackets, some in suits, some in t-shirts. The women are similarly attired – only their multitude of A-line skirts skirts suggesting any sense of matronly uniformity. Only the main characters, and Telramund’s conspirators – in their sharp grey suits – stand out.

The King, with his sense of almost forced optimism is in sharp contrast to Telramund and Ortrud – the magnificent Waltraud Meier. With them Jones has gone beyond mere cyphers determined to take charge. Ably abetted by Meier and Nikitin, they are a couple of pure malevolence who stalk the stage. Indeed they are Macbeth-like in their calculated evil, and like their Shakespearean counterparts it is Otrud who until the last is the stronger of the two. A foil to Telramund’s own weakness and mental frailty.

Elsa, as expected, is detached, almost catatonic. But Jones delves deeper. From her first appearance, her shuffling gait as she carries white bricks across the stage and through the doors to the set concealed by the single backdrop of two doors below a set of arcane heraldic symbols says it all. Elsa is ‘damaged goods’ and suspected of murder. She carries a folded poster of her brother, like those used when a child is missing. No one is able to interrupt her catatonic march until she is forcibly restrained by one of the King’s guards. Even then she does not immediately register the reason.

And it is only when the entire stage is revealed that we understand the significance of the lone draughtsman. It is Elsa who, in her workman’s overalls, is building a home, the significance of which didn’t become clear to me until the final act.

Interestingly Jones downplays the arrival of Lohengrin himself. In other productions this is often the dramatic focus of the opening act. Granted, Lohengrin arrives carrying the necessary – and animatronic – swan, but this is not ‘a moment’ in the dramatic sense. Indeed, could they have made Lohengrin look any less the hero in his grey trousers with their silver stripe and blue shirt?

For Jones the attention is in the detail. There is no single dramatic moment in the first act. Even the attempt to burn Elsa at a hastily built stake has a surreal-like quality. Ortrud stalks the stage in her suit and management-look hair style, watching everyone. A sharp contrast to Elsa in her workman’s outfit. Women versus child. Telramund, with his overly excited manners, is a man on the edge. Dangerous. Lohengrin is not a hero. Rather he looks like an accidental tourist.

Even Telramund’s challenge, Lohengrin’s defence of Elsa’s honour and the ensuing sword fight had a strange detached, pantomime quality. Indeed the only act of real aggression is when the King rips the symbol of Brabant from Telramund’s coat and throws it on the ground at the close of the First Act.

Interestingly as the main curtain fell, the audiences response was polite and somewhat muted. But the characters had been set and, I believe, Jones deliberately lulled the audience into a false sense of security, almost making us, by extension, placid participants in the drama itself.

The Second Act opens, as I have already mentioned, with Ortrud alone, seated at the far side of the stage. She sits there like a coiled spring exuding menace and her thoughts are only broken when her husband storms in. He is clearly a broken man. Gone is the smart, buttoned-up noble of the preceding act. Here, shirt undone (and displaying Nikitin’s impressive tattoos), he stumbles and sways across the stage, every so often spying on events behind the backdrop through spy holes in the door. Jones does not have him depict anger as the key driver for revenge, but rather abject humiliation. Pulling a pistol from his pocket he attempts suicide, only to be stopped by Ortrud. Icily calm, she lays out their new plan to destroy both Lohengrin and Elsa. And here, Jones suddenly ratchets up the tension. The audience was suddenly rapt, pulled forward into the drama.

What followed – spurred on by the incredible vocal and acting talents of Meier and Nikitin – was momentous. Again I was drawn to a comparison with ‘the Macbeths’ in the evil motivation that drove them both. The interplay between husband and wife was electric. More than once Telramund attempted to hurt his wife and Ortrud’s reaction made it cleat that this was, at heart, an abusive relationship. And each time he failed. Not through weakness but because it was clear that she was in total control of him. Ortrud was all about control and Meier’s portrayal was faultless. Her call for revenge – to Wotan and Fricka – was chilling and again the only moment in the whole opera where Jones/Meier allowed the character to seemingly lose control.

This was the turning point in the drama and Jones now ratcheted up the momentum inexorably. The backdrop rose to reveal the house much closer to completion, Elsa surveying her creation. The subsequent scene between the two leading ladies – watched by Telramund – was brilliantly acted by Meier and Magee, with the former’s calculating approach to confuse and thereby befriend the bride-to-be all the more chilling by Ortrud’s stealthy movements.

The tension of wedding scene itself – and the confrontation between the key protagonists – was almost unbearable. Changed into her bridal gown, Elsa seemed to find a new inner strength, if only momentarily, as she faced up to Otrud, who once again stalked across the stage as if hunting prey. Typically the arrival of Lohengrin marks a shift in the balance of power as the hero takes the leads and sees off Ortrud. Not in Jones’ production. Again Lohengrin was made to seem weaker and – most tellingly – he played into Elsa’s own insecurities. Never have I seen an Elsa so unconvinced about being a bride.

The curtain went down and the audience – particularly when Meier appeared – went wild.

It was only during the Final Act, and the completion of the house, complete with bed, baby’s cot and high chair that the potential significance of Elsa’s building programme occurred to me. It was therapy. Therapy for Elsa to help her cope with the guilt of her lost brother. But it was also an act of atonement. Elsa building a home, and creating a family to replace him. Almost as if a house, family and child would make it all seem better. I don’t know if it was coincidental or not, but the picture of her missing brother was placed on the wall directly above the high chair. Jones’ attention to detail makes me think it was anything but that.

The Third Act played out traditionally – despite the almost comedic dance routine during the prelude – for the most part, bar two significant reinterpretations. First – and I accept that this is open to debate – it seemed to me that in the scuffle with Telramund, it is Elsa and not Lohengrin, that kills Ortrud’s spouse. To me this was a plausible and significant decision by Jones. First of all the death is accidental but secondly, Elsa now begins to unravel. Her retreat back into her original catatonic state is not so much to do with Lohengrin’s departure but her own association with death. As she is led onto the stage we are back at the beginning – Elsa being suspected of murder.

And secondly, neither Otrud nor Elsa die at the end. Lohengrin exits stage left and touchingly returns carrying ????. Elsa, momentarily revived by the return of her brother, slumps down onto a seat, once again withdrawn from the world. Ortrud, despite seeing the corpse of her dead husband, does not break down. She watches and continues to stalk.

And when the curtain closes it is Ortrud who has her her arm maternally around the young prince. But most chilling, the chorus all seated on the collapsed stage, putting pistols into their mouths.

Brabant has not been purified. Far from it. Brabant is in a worse place than at the start.

So, an incredibly thought-provoking production. Jones’ intellectual bent, his attention to detail, and his clear direction to all the singers never once threatened to swamp the story-telling. Instead it offered a fresh, and to me completely plausible reappraisal of the original story.

And the singers and chorus, so ably led by Nagano in the pit, rose to the occasion. The chorus – despite some dodgy acting – were superb. Their sense of ensemble and precision was brilliant. Nagano led the orchestra and singers like a master, bringing out a burnished quality in the orchestral playing – especially the brass – that was so sadly lacking when I attended The Ring in San Francisco a few weeks ago. Runnicles take note.

Kristinu Sigmundson as Heinrich der Vogler and the Herald of Martin Gantner were clear voiced, with excellent diction. However it was the four principals who made the evening not great – but in my opinion – momentous.

Peter Seiffert is a fine Lohengrin although not a strong actor. He has both the heft and stamina for the role and while he clearly sailed through the role, there were times when a little more finesse and lightness in the vocal line would have made a real difference.

The Friedrich von Telramund of Evgeny Nikitin was simply amazing. He captured perfectly how unbalanced the character really is, portraying with clarity his breakdown from First to Third act. His interactions with Meier – especially in the Second Act – were, as I said, almost Shakespearean in their delivery. Again he is able to carry above the orchestra and s attention to the words, the light and shade of his voice, made his Telramund a real character – not simply a man after power but a man whose pursuit of power was for evil.

Emily Magee had a shaky start but she did not warrant the booing at the end. Initial problems with intonation slowly disappeared so that by her confrontation with Ortrud she was in fine voice. And her acting was superb, capturing the vulnerability as well as the childishness of the character perfectly. At the end – and quite clearly the intention – this Elsa was not a girl to expire but rather to continue suffering.

But it was Waltraud Meier’s Ortrud who stole the evening. This Lady Macbeth in Wagnerian cloth was both consummate actress and superlative singer. Her mere presence on stage was enough to raise the temperature as she stalked and hunted out the other protagonists. Her abusive relationship with Telramund was at the core of her character and the decision not to kill her at the end was telling. Ortrud had – in all senses of the word – won. She had destroyed Elsa. Did not grieve the demise of her abusive husband. And she had the child. And her singing was simply breathtaking. I have seen her in other Wagnerian roles – Isolde in Paris for example – but Ortrud was made for her. The role sits comfortable in her range, and she negotiates the role with vocal precision married with clear and meaningful diction.

So a memorable, brilliant Lohengrin. Jones delivered an intelligent production that took a new but clearly deliberate look at the story. The characters – one and all – were three dimensional and not your typical stand-and-deliver cyphers. And the quality of the singing was of the highest standard. In fact I would go so far as to say that this was one of the most enjoyable and challenging productions I have seen in years.

So it does beg the question. If this can be achieved in Munich why can’t it happen in London, New York or San Francisco?

A Matter Of Choice

In Classical Music, Opera on April 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Listening to – Rodelinda (Il Complesso Barocco)

I recently attended two performances where – at the last minute – there were changes in the line of principals. Now I am not naive enough to think that this is not an occasional hazard for ensembles and that they make every effort to find suitable replacements. Yet the two performances I attended show how very different the experience can be.

First of all let it be said that in both cases the replacement artists were – we were clearly informed – both well-known in the respective roles themselves.

In the first instance the stand-in was in every way, superlative. I do not only mean in terms of the actual performance itself, but the fact that in her interpretation she did not in any way attempt to emulate the stylistic mannerisms of the performer that she replaced and which sometimes the audience expects. She very much made the character and the performance her own and this made for an unforgettable experience.

The second experience was not so enjoyable. It was hard to believe that the tenor in question had in fact performed the role in it’s entirety before. Of which more anon.

So back to the first performance. Alcina with Les Musiciens du Louvre. Anja Harteros was to perform the title role – for which she had already been lauded by critics. However she was unable to perform in London – the cold weather was blamed. Disappointing as it potentially was, she was replaced by Inga Kalna and I admit that she was not a soprano I was acquainted with. The slip note informed us that Ms Kalna had not only performed the role before in Europe, but had performed this specific role with Minkowski and Les Musiciens in Grenoble, their home town. So on paper at least she had form. And in performance she did not disappoint. Hers was an interpretation that was obviously built on experience, and while she did not deliver the vocal fireworks that I – as well as many people no doubt expected from Ms Harteros – was expecting, she provided vocal fireworks aplenty of her own. Her Ah! Il Mio Cor was not only heart-rendingly beautiful, but delivered with a real sense of musical pathos. My only gripe was that perhaps Minkowski took it a tad too fast. But overall Ms Kalna created her own Alcina – rich in both interpretation and character – which enabled the rest of the cast to reach their own musical and emotional peaks.

One small aside before I move on. Vessalina Kassarova. Despite what some critics wrote, she was superb and I feel that this was in no small way a result of Ms Kalna’s performance. Indeed her performance as Ruggiero led me to listen again to her CD of Handel arias with renewed interest – and taught me (again!) – never to take a critic’s opinion at face value.

And so to Tristan und Isolde. Now I am the first to acknowledge that this opera presents – even when the cast does not change at all – significant challenges. The original cast was meant to be American tenor Stephen Gould in the title role, with Katarina Dalayman as his Isolde. Unfortunately Gould was replaced by Kirov tenor Leonid Zakhozhaev. A quick glance at his homepage and nothing would seem amiss. Plenty of references to his perfect German diction and in fact, one glowing review of his performance of Tristan. As I have already said, this blog is about my personal experiences and opinions, but on this occasion I do not think I was far off the mark. I am sure that in some repertoire Zakhozhaev is an exceptional performer. Needless to say I would imagine he excels in Russian repertoire and indeed in most other tenor roles. But not as Tristan. I admit that some external factors need to be considered. He was dropped in cold into a production that he did not know. But the production was not challenging. For once, and with some relief on my part, it did not display the usual affections of Personregie that you sometimes see in German productions (Because it was a co-production with Montpellier perhaps?) and was pretty much static. Clearly the direction was just a little north of ‘stand and deliver’ but Zakhozhaev made this seem even more wooden.

So to his actual singing. Tristan requires a tenor that not only has the notes and the ‘heft’, but also one that that sing in shades of colour and delicacy. Heppner had this once and occasionally it still gleams through. Zakhozhaev struggled from the beginning. Singing at one volume, in one flat tone even his German – to a non-German like me – sounded strained, with his diction almost non-existent. His struggle was clear from his first appearance and his struggle at the end of Act I did not bode well for Act II. And he didn’t disappoint. The duet was long and arduous – for the audience. And there was clearly no ‘frisson’ between Zakhozhaev and Dalayman and even she gave up trying to lead him on stage. Needless to say the final Act was a disaster. Within minutes of his monologue I was myself praying that Isolde’s ship would come earlier and cut short both his and the audience’s agony.

I know that when a principal cancels at short notice it can be difficult to find a replacement. However I remember most recently when Christian Gerhaher was delayed en route for Tannhauser, the understudy more than ably performed until his arrival. Indeed much as I was thrilled by Gerhaher’s arrival in time for the final act, I did feel somewhat sorry for the understudy who so valiantly and rather brilliantly took on the mantle at short notice.

On this occasion I cannot believe that Zakhozhaev – all the way from St Petersburg – was the best option. Perhaps I am wrong but surely in the whole of Germany or indeed Northern Europe a more suitable Tristan could have been found than the lacklustre and troubled Zakhozhaev? Even if that meant – as at Covent Garden and Tannhauser – the replacement sang from the side of the stage while someone else acted the role.

Katarina Dalayman was an impressive Isolde. She certainly has the heft for the role but perhaps because of Zakhozhaev she was not at her best. The Liebestod – while moving and a worthy intepretation – was ‘of a single volume’ with little subtlety, and therefore any sense of a ‘blissful’ state was hard to muster or convey. However again this could be down to her Tristan.

A small word for Liang Li as King Mark. He made this small yet vital role come alive. His Act II monologue was palpable with regal disappointment and betrayal.

The production was interesting and, as I have said, pretty much devoid of the usual affectations prevalent in most Personregie – such as making tea or breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes – as in Loy’s Tristan und Isolde – subtle and well-placed direction adds great value and insight, but more often than not I find the discipline of Personregie sinks to the banal and a desire to fill the music with action. I won’t try to understand the ‘Samurai’ lilt to the production, but not too much was made of this. I did admire the inference that Isolde was trapped in her own mind that the bare walls of Act I produced and the second Act was beautifully conceived in terms of portraying the ‘endless night’.

And finally to Asher Fisch. I admire and enjoy his conducting of The Ring and in Tristan und Isolde he did not disappoint. He found the ‘chamber’ element in the orchestration and for the most part succeeded in finding the balance between the singers and the orchestra.

Apart from when Zakhozhaev was singing and at thus points – particularly when the tenor was exposed or alone – he ramped up the orchestral sound.

Confidence in his Tristan? I think not.

Enough said.

Goldberg Variations (Gould)

In Classical Music, Opera on April 2, 2011 at 7:47 am

I thought i would give WordPress a go so this is an original blog entry from blogspot …

First of all please note that this is a blog. These are personal views. A mental meander through my own thoughts on music. Not based on a career as a critic but on a passion for classical music and a fundamental but I would hope thorough education many years ago in the subject.

This is a place where I will publish my own thoughts. I don’t always agree with what other people say and I definitely don’t expect people to agree with what I think about classical music, specific performances or performers. However I hope that if this is read then people will feel that they can start a discussion and share their own thoughts.

So why? I don’t profess to be an academic. I don’t profess that anyone will read this. I admit that all blogs are vanity projects and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. There is a side to me that wants to see if I can generate debate. Perhaps I will. Perhaps this will fall flat on its face. Although that would be impossible for a blog. Rather perhaps it will dissipate after a few entries. Either when I not longer feel compelled. Or I simply get bored. Who knows but perhaps bear with me for now.

So were to begin? Perhaps with the genres of music I enjoy. Then at least you can decide if you wish to read any further.

I enjoy all classical music. While that is a sweeping generalisation, it is simply true. I can and do sit through a lot of music. Some in performance, some on radio and some on DVD. But while I listen to a wide range of genres and styles that doesn’t mean that I enjoy it all.

What I particularly love is vocal music – opera in particular – and orchestral music. To hone this down even further I prefer the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Handel and Mozart when it comes to opera and vocal music, but do also enjoy forays into the works of lesser known operatic composers. In terms of orchestral music, Richard Strauss again features as do Mozart and Handel, but the Bachs feature heavily as do Beethoven, Mahler and Haydn. And with regards choral music, JS Bach is right up there with of course the great choral moments in Mahler – religious experiences in a sense – together with the great polyphonists.

But if I look at my iPod I have Korngold – perhaps not so surprising considering my love of Strauss – but also Bruckner, Couperin, Chausson, Gretry, Hartmann, Lebrun, Lorenzo Palermo, Lully, Messiaen, Porpora, Rossini, Schmidt and Suk to name a few. But each can draw a line back to my first list in some way.

And naturally some composers I have come to later than others. A good friend of mine – who sadly died a few years ago and with whom I enjoyed many memorable concerts – once said that as you grew older the appreciation accorded to composers changed with life experience. It is something that I have heard on countless occasions but always as a sense of moving inexorably forward and discarding composers in your wake. He taught me how to listen to new composers – or should I say ‘other composers’ – through the prism of those I already loved and admired. It’s how I came to appreciate Mahler – a composer I had for so long struggled with. And more importantly it meant I never lost my love for other composers.

So it surprises me that as I write my first entry I am in fact listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. My intention is to note what I am listening to at the top of each entry. So having written that my primary passions are opera, vocal and orchestral music, here I sit writing this while listening to the complete opposite. Music for solo keyboard. I think perhaps that this blog will be full of these contradictions but on the whole chamber music – as I call it – generally leaves me cold.

So why Glenn Gould’s performance of the Variations. And does it matter that it is the 1955 recording. Does that make me a snob in some way? No. But simply I sat down to write after I had selected this piece of music. I love the beautiful simplicity of his performance. Many years ago, my piano teacher said to me that the secret of a great performance was that the listener should feel that he could walk to the stage and feel that he or she could perform the same piece of music. Not necessarily to the same artistic standard, but feel inspired to give it a go.

Now I know that I cannot play to the standard of Gould but his performance makes me want to ‘get inside’ the music and the only way I know how would be to sit at a piano and bang away. Not with the aim to recreate perfectly the sense of balance and finesse that he brings to this beautiful piece of music, but rather to discover and enjoy my own sense of musicianship and interpretation that his performance compels me to find.

Does that make me strange? Does anyone else ever feel the same compulsion?

So Gould compels me to leap to a piano. I would if I had one so instead I feel compelled to leap to this alternate keyboard! Another thing – often when listening to the Goldberg Variations I stop every four or five and return to the original Aria. This is something I started doing only recently. Why? It isn’t like Bach does not ensure that the Aria is recognisable even in the most complicated or abstract or the thirty-two variations. But after three or four variations I feel the need to once against marvel at the shear simplicity of the opening Aria. I cannot think that there is a single piece of music apart from this Aria where the simplicity of the opening few bars is so starkly beautiful that is takes one’s breath away. And then evolves into veritable avalanche of music thought.

And at the very end. A return to the original Aria. Beautiful.

So there you have it. My first entry. I had thought that I would wax lyrical about Wagner or Strauss. Or perhaps even Handel. But there you have it. I said there would be contradiction and there it is. In my first entry.

But what a beautiful contradiction it is.

Thank you.


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

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