Posts Tagged ‘Sandrine Piau’

2012: The Good. The Bad. The Stupid.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 4, 2013 at 8:58 am

2012 was meant to be about getting to Leipzig to hear the GewandhausOrchester and Riccardo Chailly. And about trying to listen to more new music, at least one new piece every fortnight.

Sadly, I can’t say that I achieved either.

But it has been a good year in terms of music in my life, a good year for the ‘bad’ music in my life and let’s face it, the classical music world wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the occasional ‘stupid’ things as well.

But starting with the good. And in most cases the excellent.

Renée Fleming tops the list not only for the performances that I attended but for the CDs that have given me not only hours of pleasure but lifted my spirits on many an occasion.

Her disc of Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleaux is one that I appreciate more each and every time I listen to it. There is a depth and integrity to the performances that is perfectly matched by the more burnished – almost golden – tone of her voice. Of the recital, it is Messaien’s Prière Exaucée that I return to most often.

In terms of live performances, Ms Fleming has delivered three of my most memorable concerts of the year. In February she made her debut as Ariadne/Prima Donna at Baden-Baden, in an intelligent and beautifully nuanced production by Philippe Arlaud. She is today’s Strauss interpreter par excellence, and her Ariadne – warm, dignified and soulful – was truly remarkable. And she was supported by an incredibly strong cast, from The Composer of Sophie Koch and Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta to a particularly strong performance by Robert Dean Smith as Bacchus.

Similarly, her Arabella in Paris in June. While Philippe Jordan was not the most sympathetic conductor, and the set felt somewhat lost on the stage itself, Ms Fleming and Michael Volle in the lead roles were superb.

But most memorably and most recently was Ms Fleming’s performance at the Barbican. In a carefully constructed recital, she took the audience on the most magnificent journey through the closing years of the Habsburg empire to the dawn of fascism. From Mahler to Schoenberg, Ms Fleming once again demonstrated her musical and vocal prowess. And when, in her encores she glitched, she did so with great humour. As I said at the time I hope that in 2013 she will make a recording of this recital. It can only be brilliant.

Staying with Vienna, Robert Carsen’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Wien Staatsoper in March was a homage to the city itself. Compared to the two previous productions I had seen – in Copenhagen and Edinburgh – this was by far the more successful in interpreting the at times dense symbolism of the story. And Carsen was aided and abetted by an incredible cast, led by Adrienne Pieczonka and Evelyn Herlitzius as the Empress and Dyer’s Wife respectively and Robert Dean Smith as the Emperor. And in the pit, Franz Welster Möst drew superlative playing from the orchestra. It’s a shame that this production hasn’t been captured on DVD.

Soprano Sandrine Piau literally wowed the audience of Wigmore Hall with her Mozart recital in October. Combining Mozart’s arrangements of Handel arias with some of his own arias drawn from his youth Ms Piau, ably supported by the Orchestra of Classical Opera conducted by Ian Page gave a performance that was nothing short of brilliant. But to the delight of everyone who attended she saved the best til her final encore – an absolutely heart-rending performance of Verso gia l’alma col sangue from Handel’s Aci. Galatea e Polifemo. Brava.

And finally hats off to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for being – in short – the most cheerful, energetic and enthusiastic performers of 2012. Not only is their music making of the highest standard but they continue to raise the bar when it comes to reaching new audiences and the inventiveness of their programming. Their Nightshift series is brilliant and their most recent event, celebrating the music of Handel with brilliantly amusing anecdotes by John Butt demonstrates that they know how to make classical music seem alive and relevant to the audience. And their first two concerts in the series Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers with superlative performances by Anna Catarina Antonacci and Sarah Connolly bode well for the remaining concerts in 2013. Definitely performances to book if you haven’t done so already.

Other memorable performances were Janowski’s Tannhauser for Christian Gerhaher’s Wolfram slightly pipping Nina Stemme’s Elizabeth and a live stream of the final installment of Kriegenberg’s Ring in Munich.

Sadly 2012 wasn’t without its turkeys. Top of the list was ENO’s misjudged choice of director for their new production of Julius Caesar. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s vision was nothing short of facile and shameful as it completely undermined the strong performances overall of the cast. In a similar vein, Nigel Lowery’s production of Il Trionfo di Clelia wasn’t only let down by the pretension and ridiculousness of his ideas but by the ragged, almost poorly rehearsed playing of the City of London Sinfonia.

Sadly Opera North also didn’t quite hit the mark this year. Disappointing productions of Norma and Giulio Cesare – bar a strong performance by Sarah Tynan – were followed by a particularly poor Die Walküre. As well as being poorly cast, Richard Farnes never seemed to grasp the music’s sweep. I am hoping that they recover their mojo for Siegfried.

Robert LePage’s Ring Cycle finally ended with a fatally flawed Götterdämmerung. Not only was the production – symbolized forever by it’s Buckeroo Grane – poorly conceived together with the rest of the cycle, but a hostile reaction from the public and the critics led to both the director and Peter Gelb going on a poorly thought through offensive. LePage’s interview in the New York Times was nothing less than insulting, and Gelb’s attempt at censorship similarly ill-fated. Lepage’s reference to “the Machine” as a ‘poisoned gift’ in Wagner’s Dream, a documentary about the entire production and well worth watching, seems particularly apt.

Staying with bad ideas, the BBC’s Maestro At The Opera proved just how insulting the BBC thinks its audience is. This tick-box-arts-programming featuring a series of has-beens and nobodies not only insulted the intelligence of the wider audience but also ensured that the tired old myths and misconceptions about opera on the whole have been perpetuated. Let’s hope that Lord Hall of Birkenhead sorts it all out.

And John Berry continued his attempts to be hip with his introduction of a “no dress code” dress code at ENO. Stupid man.

But to end on a positive note, this year has seen some fantastic CDs issued. Top of the list and forgive my bias that “all-things-by-Joyce-DiDondato-are-fantastic” is her latest CD, Drama Queens. Not only is each and every track a marvel of musicianship and passion but her concert tour has been a storming success. Personally I cannot wait for her to perform in London this February. Valer Barna-Sabadus rose above the poorly named title of his CD to produce one of the best recital discs of 2012. Not many artists could pull of an entire CD of Hasse’s music, but Barna-Sabadus not only does so with verve but with a series of masterful performances. As I said at the time, Cadrà fra poco in cenere is simply beautiful. Two other discs that remain almost on constant repeat are Iestyn Davies’ Arias for Guadagni accompanied by the excellent ensemble Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen and Anne Schwanewilms’ disc of Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder.

And for 2013? Well I have already mentioned Ms DiDonato’s forthcoming concert but there are other things to look forward to and to book. The OAE’s Queens, Heroines & Ladykillers series continues and in this year of Wagner a full Ring cycle is a must. But if not the Met, then perhaps Munich or even Palermo?

And while I have failed to get a ticket to Die Frau ohne Schatten with Anne Schwanewilms in Amsterdam, I have my eyes firmly fixed on a new production of FroSch at the Met this Autumn. And of course I hope to return to Vienna for either Die Walküre or Tristan und Isolde.

And in terms of forthcoming CDs who cannot be excited – or at least intrigued – by Gergiev’s forthcoming Die Walküre, a reissue of Anneliese Rothenberger singing the Vier Letzte Lieder and another instalment of of Janowski’s WagnerZyklus?

So it only leaves me to thank you all for continuing to visit my blog. I know that not all of you agree with my write-ups and I am always honoured when you leave a comment – good or bad they make me think and on occasion change my mind.

So while it’s adieu to an eventful and enjoyable 2012, in terms of 2013 I say “bring it”.


Piau Wows

In Classical Music, Handel, Mozart, Review on October 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Review – “Ruhe sanft” – A Mozart Kaleidoscope (Wigmore Hall, Monday 15 October 2012)

Sandrine Piau (Soprano)
Jonathan Manson (Cello)
The Orchestra of Classical Opera

Ian Page (Conductor)

It was quite simply an evening of the highest standard of musicianship from French soprano Sandrine Piau, brilliantly and sympathetically supported by the Orchestra of Classical Opera under Ian Page.

The narrative of the concert included arias spanning the beginning and closing years of Mozart life, including his interest with Handel. Inspired by his discovery of JS Bach and Handel the concert opened with a dramatic, rhythmically alert and sonorous performance of Mozart’s Adagio & Fugue in c minor. The Adagio had all the tension of coiling a spring before the release of the fugue, driven forward with incredible care given to the individual lines by Page right into the stretto at the end.

Also in the first half the Orchestra gave a spirited performance of Mozart’s Symphony in F written when he was only nine years old but only discovered in 1981. What’s so clearly evident – as it was with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment only a few weeks ago – is the very clear enjoyment and pleasure that this ensemble has in music making. I’m beginning to wonder in fact if this evident enjoyment on the stage is unique to original instrument ensembles as I rarely see more ‘traditional’ orchestras even crack a smile when playing. Playing all the repeats again Page kept the tempos brisk and drove the music forward with rhythmic vitality.

Ms Piau first took to the stage with an aria from Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, Leidenschaften stillt und weckt Musik, more commonly known as ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell’ and an aria that Ms Piau has committed to disc recently.

Jonathan Manson, principal cellist with the Orchestra of Classical Opera deserves special mention for his delicate and fluid playing of the obbligato in this aria as well as one of two encores performed at the end of the evening. His rich, suave tone was a pleasure to listen to and he complimented Ms Piau perfectly.

The actual arrangement of this aria by Mozart made the original by Handel seem – to me at any rate – more like Haydn. Almost like something that would be out of place in The Creation for example.

Ms Piau immediately demonstrated why she is one of the leading sopranos. Her sure and solid technique combined with musical intelligence and eloquence underpins a voice of great beauty and character which is warm, bronzed almost, and even.

Ms Piau bestowed on Mozart’s arrangement of this aria a serenity that had the audience enthralled from the moment she began to sing.

Next she sang an aria from Mozart’s own oratorio, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, performed in 1767. Mozart only provided music for a single act, sharing the commission with Michael Haydn and Anton Adlgasser. Classical Opera are to make a recording of this for 2013 so it will be interesting to be able to compare the three composers side by side.

The aria itself, Ein ergrimmter Löwe brüllet (An Enraged Lion Roars) is a typical metaphor aria in da capo form where the middle section, with it’s reference to Mercy, is gentler and slower. While it can’t compare with later vocal number by Mozart it was a charming aria and showed that even at the age of eleven he could not only write confidently but had a clear understanding of the voice.

And Ms Piau imbued the aria with an emotional intensity that made you forget that this was in fact the work of a child – albeit it prodigy. I do hope that Ian Page has persuaded Ms Piau to participate.

I own – and I can’t recommend it enough – Ms Piau’s recital disc of Mozart arias with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Some of the arias from that disc she performed at Wigmore Hall and the first of these was Grazie al Numi … Nel grave tormento from Mitridate, re di Ponto, written by Mozart for Milan in 1771, a year before Lucio Silla.

Perhaps because it was a live performance, but compared to her rendition on the disc, that evening this aria seethed with emotion. And if anything, with the passage of time her voice had grown in terms of depth and lustre while at the same time losing neither its flexibility nor range. And the way she delivered the allegro coloratura – like bullets out of a gun – demonstrated her incredible technique.

Post the interval, Ms Piau returned for two arias from La Finta Giardinera – Geme la tortorella and Crudeli, oh Dio! Fermate … Ah dal pianto, dal singhiozzo. Written for the character of Sandrina, the are arias of contrasting emotions which Ms Piau carried off with both vocal and emotional aplomb. Similarly, in the second aria, Ms Piau handled the feisty accompagnato with a dramatic intensity that she carried into the ensuing aria.

In the first aria, supported by gentle yet precise playing from Classical Opera, Ms Piau demonstrated again that Mozart not only knew how to write for the voice but write with suitably tinged pathos.

I cannot admit to knowing all of Mozart’s symphonies and therefore the Orchestra of Classical Opera’s performance next of Symphony No. 27 in G Major was a nice surprise as I tend to start at Symphony No. 32 and move upwards. But this symphony is a real ‘Galant’ gem while at the same time acting as a precursor to the aforementioned symphony in many ways. The lilting triple time opening movement is followed by an gentle, almost rustic Andantino grazioso with rippling triplets and some delightful major-minor mode changes and some closing cadential humour. The contrapuntal final movement has distinct echoes of Mozart’s final symphony. It is definitely worth a listen.

Ms Piau then returned to the stage for her final two arias from Zaide. Ruhe sanft – with James Eastaway’s beguiling oboe obbligato – was taken at a speed slower than normal but not as slow as on her recital disc. Yet the tempo allowed Ms Piau to relish the vocal line especially in the melismas of the closing bars. Yet it was her performance of Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen which was almost the finest performance of the evening. Again the soprano inhabited the role from the first outburst but never let the emotion blur the purity of her singing.

I say it was almost the finest performance of the evening but Ms Piau delighted the audience with two superb encores.

The first was Mozart’s arrangement of Softly Sweet, In Lydian Measures from Handel’s Alexander’s Feast once again beautifully complemented by the obbligato playing of Jonathan Manson.

And with the second encore Ian Page informed the audience that he was sending us home “with death” – Verso gia l’alma col sangue from Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.

It was the ultimate lesson in how perfect a performance can be. Over the gentlest string accompaniment Ms Piau unwound the delicate vocal line with passionate intensity.

It was a most exquisite death and the perfect end to a perfect evening.


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

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