lietofinelondon

Posts Tagged ‘Jurowski’

How Do You Save A Concert With Karita?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on January 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Review: The Rest Is Noise Inaugural Concert (Royal Festival Hall, Saturday 19 January 2013)

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
Four Early Songs, Op. 33
Notturno, Op. 44 No. 1
Dance of the Seven Veils & Final Scene, Salome, Op. 54

Karita Matilla (Soprano)
Thomas Hampson (Baritone)

London Philharmonic
Vladimir Jurowski (Conductor)

An all-Strauss concert heralded the start of the Southbank’s The Rest Is Noise festival – literally chapter one in a one-year musical traversal of Alex Ross’ book of the same title.

It’s an ambitious and creative approach to the book. As well as concerts, talks and films are scheduled to bring 20th Century music to life for the audience.

So it’s a shame that the opening concert didn’t quite live up to the artistic and ambitious endeavor of the festival itself. Bar the most obvious programming of the evening Jurowski and the soloists didn’t manage to generate that frisson of excitement that underlined the reason why Ross embarks on his book with Richard Strauss.

The last time I heard Jurowski conduct Strauss was a mixed affair and the same was true of this opening concert. Also sprach Zarathustra – while smartly played by the London Philharmonic – was no nonsense – in fact almost perfunctory – in its delivery by the maestro. Played almost as an academic exercise, Jurowski gave no quarter or flex to allow the music to breathe. When speaking afterwards, Jurowski spoke of the piece’s nihilism. Clearly his idea of nihilism is to get to the final bar as quickly and unapologetically as possible with no pause for thought or reflection.

I just hope that by the time Jurowski gets to Die Frau ohne Schatten later this year that he has – for wont of a better phrase – relaxed into Richard Strauss a great deal more.

Sadly the four early songs that followed fared little better. Neither Verführung nor Gesang der Apollopriesterin were the best choices for Karita Matilla. Or vice versa. There is no denying that Matilla is still an incredible singer but she simply wasn’t able to negotiate the broad sweeping phrases as written by Strauss and in some cases not only quite literally ‘gulped’ them out but struggled at both ends of her register. There was little finesse and no colouring in her performance and as a consequence this inevitably meant that at times her diction was below par. I see that she is schedule to sing the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos. An unusual decision based on her performance of these two songs.

Thomas Hampson fared better. Marginally. A career of lieder singing was evident in his performance and focus on the words but he struggled not only against the orchestra at points (which male singer doesn’t in Strauss?) and again he wasn’t quite able to negotiate the range that Strauss had written in to the vocal line.

However again while Jurowski coaxed some resplendent playing from the orchestra I was not always convinced of his sympathy either for supporting either singer or the music itself. It was almost – despite his own comments to the audience about the influences of Wagner and the like – that these songs were a sideshow to what was to come.

The second half was immeasurably better but not always for reasons of musicianship.

I have not heard the Notturno performed in the UK before and not for some time generally. It is an interesting piece with Strauss being inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem to create a new and beautifully evocative palette of colours for a chamber ensemble that he was not to do again. As well as echoes of Mahler in places it is definitely forward looking but whether it had an influence on later composers is debatable. Strauss’ own retreat from this sound world proves that he was himself experimenting. Here Jurowski seemed to relax into the music more. Perhaps it was the intimacy and focus of the piece that inspired him as he allowed the players greater freedom and weaved the textures produced together around Hampson who sang with great diligence and some theatricality. However this piece is cruel in its exposure of any singer and here Hampson didn’t quite manage the lower parts of the vocal line and could perhaps have been braver in his interpretation. Hopefully however we will see Notturno become a rare, if not absent, addition to the performance schedule here in the UK.

And so to the closing music of the concert.

Personally I think that Strauss’ Dance of the Seven Veils could almost conduct itself. Beautifully orchestrated and cunningly constructed it moves inexorably to its denouement and for the conductor the challenge is to marshal the orchestral forces to ensure it doesn’t burn out too quickly, tease out the orchestral colours and inject a sense of sexuality and swagger. Jurowski did the first, mostly did the second but the third was sadly lacking. Again there was a sense of the perfunctory to his leadership that while it meant the Dance was beautifully played it didn’t quite have the sensuousness that would lead one to want to give Salome someone’s head.

And Karita Matilla’s Salome? Was she – as Hampson said – one of the greatest Salome’s alive? Did she deserve the standing ovation?

Yes.

And no.

Clearly this was the moment in the concert that Ms Matilla was completely focused on and she gave a mesmerizing – at times electric – performance. I could have been mistaken but did the Southbank lighting technicians bathe her in a red light. Why? It was not needed. She completely immersed herself in the character and music of Salome and while the sounds that she produced were not always beautiful, they were completely in character. When needed she cut through the orchestral most brutally but could then reduce herself to an almost Sprechstimme-like whisper. She pulled out all the stops and had clearly decided that this was not a moment for vocal beauty but rather a moment to forge an interpretation based on raw – almost physical – emotion.

And it worked in the confines of the concert hall.

And it was clear that wherever she went Jurowski was duty-bound to follow. The roles were reversed and she was in control. For the first time he seemed to release himself from some kind of self-imposed straitjacket and pushed himself and the orchestral to their limits. He mined the rich textures and colours that Strauss had written but more than that he surrendered and gave space for the lyricism that this closing section is steeped in as a juxtaposition to the music of Salome’s own deranged mind.

Together Matilla and Jurowski sought out and found beauty in the brutality of Strauss’ music. For the first time that evening you could completely understand why Alex Ross chose Strauss as the first chapter in his book. It swept away all the disappointment of the rest of the concert.

Quite rightly the audience showed their appreciation. But it was for Matilla’s memorable not musical Salome.

The evening was quite literally saved by serving up a head on a plate.

Mena’s Moto Perpetuo Mahler

In Classical Music, Gustav Mahler, Review on September 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Review – Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”.
Ailish Tynan, Iris Vermillion, London Symphony Chorus.
BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena.
Saturday 24 September, 2011.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Mahler is challenging to conduct convincingly. As well as being a master of orchestration and – what is often forgotten – having an incredibly keen sense of the orchestra’s colour palette and dynamic flexibility, he was himself an excellent conductor. Having been educated at the Vienna Conservatory he was well acquainted with – in fact acutely knowledgeable about – the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven as well as of Wagner and additionally he was one of the few exponents of Bruckner.

All of these elements have to be considered, combined and balanced when it comes to performing his music. In the right combination, with an ensemble of the highest standard and under a conductor of intelligence, passion and experience, a performance can be truly remarkable.

And on Saturday night at Bridgewater Hall, at the inaugural concert of the BBC Philharmonic under their new Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena, all the elements came together, fused brilliantly and created just such a memorable evening.

Mena opened the first movement at a brisker pace than usual. From the first ‘bite’ in the tremolando strings and the rhythmically muscular cello entry – every note clearly discernable – it was clear that Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony was a piece that Mena was both steeped in and loved.

And in the opening section it was also clear that Mena’s approach would balance the “bite” with the lyrical. The violin theme is so often “chopped up” by conductors – even Jurowski in his recent and excellent recording – but Mena’s handling was much more song-like. And throughout the first movement, the attention was in the detail. Mena perfectly balanced the ‘walking bass’ against the woodwind so that as ever before I heard so clearly the inference to chorales.

In the first movement Mena also demonstrated a clear grip on the need for transparency and dynamic control. Throughout this movement and indeed the whole performance, he skillfully balanced the need for transparency so that Mahler’s detailed orchestration could be heard with a broad and at times astonishing dynamic range. It wasn’t until the cataclysmic chord halfway through the first movement that I thought that Mena finally unleashed the full dynamic power of the BBC Philharmonic. It literally made Bridgewater Hall hum. But I was wrong. He held back the full force of the orchestra until the final moments of the whole symphony and pinned the fact that he had – from the beginning – an unerring sense of the whole architecture of the symphony.

Mena took the landler-like second movement at a pace a hair’s breath faster than Jurowski. But while the latter conveyed more of a sense of ‘weight’ – and perhaps not the sense of ‘intermezzo’ that Mahler had originally envisaged – Mena struck a lighter, more genial note with an almost Latin lilt that was clearly conveyed by his own movements when conducting the orchestra. Methinks that on the dance floor Mena is light on his feet and a ‘mover’. However again transparency was never sacrificed for a sense of ‘moto perpetuo’ and at times Mena’s chambelike handling of the orchestra harked back to the symphonies of Beethoven.

The sense of perpetual motion in the second movement was carried over and maintained in the third movement. Yet Mena’s pointing up of the orchestral colours – particularly in the wind – created a different palette – nervous and threatening at the same time, ratcheting up the tension into the outburst from the brass. For the conductor this was a movement of distinct contrasts.

Iris Vermillion’s entry in Urlicht with “O Röschen rot!”, for which Mena daringly brought the tempo to its slowest ebb, was nothing less than magical. Hers is a rich and warm mezzo and she delivered a wonderfully sustained vocal line with clear diction and conveying a real sense of the words, particularly at “Ach nein! Ich liess mich nicht abweisen! Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott”. If you haven’t heard her then I would recommend her Abschied with Sinopoli or her recording of Alma Mahler’s lieder.

The final movement, opening as it does with the orchestra at almost full tilt created the right sense of rude awakening from the preceding bliss. Mena skillfully handled the off-stage performers against the full orchestra, managing the transition to the dialogue between the off-stage brass and the flutes. But it was the first hushed entry of the London Symphony Chorus with “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du” was breathtaking in its simple beauty. The sound they produced seemed to appear as if from nothing, perfectly balanced with clear diction and joined by the crystalline soprano of Ailish Tynan, a late replacement for the indisposed Susan Gritton. Ms Tynan’s voice glided over the chorus and melded beautifully with Ms Vermillion’s voice.

Mena kept control throughout the closing sections of the symphony, marshalling the soloists, chorus and orchestra to the thrilling climax at “Sterben werd’ ich, zu leben … Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du … Zu Gott wird es dich tragen!” and the closing bars of the orchestra. The silence at Mena lowered his baton, and the final sounds died away in the hall, was palpable.

Throughout the evening the BBC Philharmonic followed Mena with complete focus, instinctively translating every gesture and movement into music making of the highest calibre. Under Gianandrea Noseda the BBC Philharmonic developed a distinctly ‘European’ sound – warm strings, sonorous winds and some of the best brass playing I have heard. And under Mena this direction of travel seems set to continue. Is it perhaps no coincidence that Richard Wigley, General Manager and the orchestra have veered more towards European conductors than their other BBC orchestra colleagues? This distinction stands them in good stead and sets them apart. The other BBC orchestras are excellent but having heard them all at the Proms, and after last night, I believe that the BBC Philharmonic is the strongest of them all in terms of performance.

Mena’s control of speed showed a clear and in-depth knowledge of the overarching architecture of the symphony. From the brisker opening, through the incredibly slow yet serene Urlich to the closing bars, Mena had perfectly judged the tempi thoughout. Not only did he maintain a real sense of momentum as he unfold an incredibly musical interpretation, but never before have I heard the closing bars have such impact, not only in terms of sound but as a result of his perfect sense of proportion and balance in terms of tempo.

I look forward to future performances of Mahler by Mena and the BBC Philharmonic.

Saturday night’s performance of Mahler was – I think – one that the composer himself would have approved of.

Subitolove

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

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective

OBERTO

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera