Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 11 )
Philharmonia Orchestra 2 • Esa-Pekka Salonen

Berg • Strauss • Ravel • Esa-Pekka Salonen • Lawrence Power • Max Hornung

Power-ful, Wonderful, Versatile


After attending the very, very fine Philharmonia concert with Chirstoph Dohnányi, the orchestra’s appearance two days later, Saturday August 9th, with their other main conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, was just about mandatory. Getting in wouldn’t have been a problem in any case: there was Alban Berg on the program and therefore tickets available. Don Quixote, the tone poem-cum-one-and-a-half-concerto (as opposed to “Double”) for cello and viola of Richard Strauss’ isn’t a big pull, either… nor its primary soloist that morning—very fine a musician though he is—Maximilian Hornung.

Sancho and the Sheep

The violist isn’t going to make a difference when it comes to selling tickets, either, but the choice of having a dedicated soloist for the tricky viola part, rather than letting the first violist of the orchestra scrape by (no offense) is huge, can’t have been easy (considering orchestra politicking), and was most warmly welcomed! Getting Lawrence Power, one of the more scrupulously musical string players—never mind violists!—around, sent waves of sweet anticipation through me, the same which could not be said about the piece itself. Playing not next to the soloist but from amid the orchestra, so as not to look too silly (not that a silly-looking Sancho Panza would be all that out of place) as honorary section leader, Power utterly seduced the ears to the point of view of Sancho with his gorgeous, witty playing.

available at Amazon
A.Berg, 3 Orchestral Pieces et al.
D.Gatti / RCO
RCO Live

available at Amazon
R.Strauss, Don Quixote, Till E.
M.Stenz / A.Gerhardt, L.Power
Strange piece, with many quite modern touches that bears dissonant, blaring, and atmospheric surprises for the listeners (the cacophonous brass sheep are hilarious!) and then surprises again with vast expanses of Straussian lushness that could feature in Frau ohne Schatten. A little weird and difficult and ungrateful for the players, it’s still kind of glorious, actually, when performed with such conviction. The first violinist, who also has an extended bit to play, too, was not quite in his Four-Last-Songs-form, but still an equal enough partner to Hornung and Power. Hornung was unafraid of rough and ungainly sounds, found into the work soon enough, and made much, if not the most, of it. The latter became obvious when he was outshone by his viola-sidekick who has considerably less (but perhaps the more memorable) music.

Exciting and Exacting

Esa-Pekka conducted the attacks of the Präludium of Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces op.6 so vigorously that on a stabbing move the baton flew out of his hands and pierced the second violin section leader right through the heart, killing her on the spot. The orchestra didn’t miss a beat. There was see-through transparency in that first movement, a restrained kind of gorgeousness in the Reigen (such truly romantic music), and Mahlerian-apocalyptic in the final Marsch. Even the mallet and box from Mahler’s Sixth came in handy.

Maurice Ravel’s La Valse started cool and became increasingly merciless… which I thought bloody fantastic and afterwards had to disagree with a pair of much respected and discerning ears that thought the whole affair was too damn unromantic, technocratic and not even perfectly together. What I heard, at least—having been in a good and perhaps generous mood—was a bone-breaking, fist-clenching Valse that showed just how little fun and how much anguish there really can be, in this Poème choréographique of sorrowful remembrance. The Philharmonia, certainly, came away from those two concerts looking wonderful and versatile.

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 10 )
Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Buchbinder

Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Rudolf Buchbinder

Beethoven Circus Trick


A Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle courtesy Rudolf Buchbinder at the Salzburg Festival… recorded by Unitel for DVD, to boot: a frightfully unoriginal venture and the mind boggles at who might possibly want to sit down to watch the third (!) complete traversal of Beethoven Sonatas on their TV. Then again,
Unitel doubtlessly knows what they are doing: The Japanese and Austrian markets might respond. For everyone else, it makes more sense to sit down and take in one (or a couple) of these at the Mozarteum.

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas
R.Buchbinder (1st Cycle)
Teldec 2012

available at Amazon
W.G.Mozart, Complete Piano Concertos
R.Buchbinder / VSO
Profil Haenssler
The idea of performing all the 32 Sonatas in 6, 7, 8 recitals—or maybe even two days and from memory, of course—has become a modern high art party trick that many—serious and less serious—pianists have picked up on. It’s an Olympic thing with very little by way of musical reason but it still has a way of making a splash. Buchbinder himself has said that performing the sonatas chronologically was foolery, but even in a more interesting order, performed just by one pianist, is also no novel or exciting proposition… At least not compared to the alternative of putting on such a cycle with a diverse line up perhaps along lines like these: Rudolf Buchbinder, but also a recital each by the likes of Maurizio Pollini, Angela Hewitt, Mitsuko Uchida, Igor Levit, Christian Bezuidenhout, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, F.F.Guy, Ronald Brautigam, András Schiff, Gregory Sokolov, Evgeny Kissin, Richard Goode et al. Different schools, approaches, generations, instruments among which one could then compare. Well, one can dream. Or, as mentioned, just show up for one show—in this case the third of seven, on Friday August 8th.

Having established that I wouldn’t need a Beethoven cycle (live) from any one pianist over the course of two and a half weeks, in the first place, I might add that if I picked one pianist to do it, it would not be the perfectly admirable, charming, friendly, and positively obsessed Rudolf Buchbinder… his achievements on record (supreme Mozart concertos!) or in concert (classically brilliant Grieg) notwithstanding. His slightly workman-like playing promises me limited insight and excitement.

Prejudice is not an ideal state to enter a concert with… but better to be aware of it than to fool oneself, vainly, that one is free from it. In this case, it was not the mild prejudice against Buchbinder’s approach, though, that was fed, but my prejudice against the project as such. An odd first movement of Sonata No.3, op.2/3 came in “Allegro con fear-of-your-life-because-there-is-a-tiger-behind-you!” Hurried, harsh, accentuating individual notes for distinction, and a get-it-out-of-the-way tempo. The Adagio was lovingly moonlightish, then halting and loud. The Scherzo: Boldly rigorous and involving, and with a nifty twist of crudeness. And then Buchbinder hammered the pneumatically powered Allegro assai home on the steely sounding Steinway in the Grosser Saal which isn’t so gross that it needs quite so fierce an instrument.

In the little Sonata No.19 op.49/1, Buchbinder was not making a case for the op.49 pair’s inclusion in the “32”. And in the otherwise fine “Les Adieux” Sonata No.26, op.81a, the finale was loud and haphazardly churned out well beyond “lebhaft” in terms of speed—and not quite beyond it in terms of interest. The speed of the Presto in Sonata No.7, op.10/3 could cynically have been welcomed for meaning that the whole affair should be over all the sooner. The Largo and the Menuetto appeased momentarily, but then, with Buchbinder’s concentration or stamina waning, the grand five movement Sonata No.28, op.101 was an increasingly shoddy affair.

It started well enough: Given a sense of rigor, devoid of ease or any hint of the facile, there was seriousness taking the place of willfulness for a while, which was captivating. Just not for long. And the Finale became a minor disaster. The audience was in rapture all the same and demanded encores, which were duly delivered. I say encores, but really they were patching sessions from movements gone wrong in previous recitals: The Scherzo from Sonata op.31/3 and the Andante from op.14/2, both from the first day of the Sonata survey. These had the great advantage of being very well rehearsed. (By the same token, I think I can predict the encores of the fifth recital.) Text.


À mon chevet: 'Béatrix'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
If this ancient dwelling attracts your imagination, you may perhaps ask yourself why such miracles of art are not renewed in the present day. Because to-day mansions are sold, pulled down, and the ground they stood on turned into streets. No one can be sure that the next generation will possess the paternal dwelling; homes are no more than inns; whereas in former times when a dwelling was built men worked, or thought they worked, for a family in perpetuity. Hence the grandeur of these houses. Faith in self, as well as faith in God, did prodigies.

As for the arrangement of the upper rooms they may be imagined after this description of the ground-floor, and after reading an account of the manners, customs, and physiognomy of the family. For the last fifty years the du Guaisnics have received their friends in the two rooms just described, in which, as in the court-yard and the external accessories of the building, the spirit, grace, and candor of the old and noble Brittany still survives. Without the topography and description of the town, and without this minute depicting of the house, the surprising figures of the family might be less understood. Therefore the frames have preceded the portraits. Every one is aware that things influence beings. There are public buildings whose effect is visible upon the persons living in their neighborhood. It would be difficult indeed to be irreligious in the shadow of a cathedral like that of Bourges. When the soul is everywhere reminded of its destiny by surrounding images, it is less easy to fail of it. Such was the thought of our immediate grandfathers, abandoned by a generation which was soon to have no signs and no distinctions, and whose manners and morals were to change every decade. If you do not now expect to find the Baron du Guaisnic sword in hand, all here written would be falsehood.

-- Honoré de Balzac, Béatrix (translation by Katharine Prescott Wormeley)
Balzac's La Comédie humaine has become an obsession of mine this summer, as it is for lots of people. I have nearly finished the Scènes de la vie privée section, most of which is bite-size short stories and novellas, perfect for episodic summer reading. Béatrix is one of the full-length novels in the collection, which begins with a memorable description of the Breton village of Guérande. The speck of a town has, at its center, a noble house that time forgot, which strikes me as possibly having inspired Alain-Fournier's description of Les Sablonnières in Le Grand Meaulnes.


Hindemith's Ballet Music

Of all the things one might associate with the name of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), ballet is likely not the first thing that leaps to mind. Only one of his ballets remains somewhat well known, The Four Temperaments, commissioned by George Balanchine and premiered by New York City Ballet in 1946, and it remains in the repertory of NYCB and of Sarasota Ballet, among others. Before that work, Hindemith composed music for a couple of experimental ballets in Germany, beginning with the odd yet wonderful Triadisches Ballett (Stuttgart, 1922), a ground-breaking abstract ballet, set in visual and musical sets of three (thus, triadic ballet). As seen in the film made a few years after the premiere, the dancers performed in bulky, geometric costumes, designed by Oskar Schlemmer of the Bauhaus, that made them look like marionettes against brightly colored backdrops. The following year Hindemith composed a daring score for Der Dämon (Darmstadt, 1923), set to a disturbing scenario by Max Krell about a sadomasochistic demon that subjugates two sisters.

available at Amazon
Hindemith, Nobilissima Visione (complete ballet), Seattle Symphony, G. Schwarz

(released on July 8, 2014)
Naxos 8.572763 | 58'24"
Around the same time as Hindemith finished his opera Mathis der Maler, he received a commission for a ballet from Léonide Massine, which eventually became Nobilissima Visione (London, 1938; with one subsequent performance at the Metropolitan Opera). Like Mathis, the ballet was inspired by art, in this case Giotto's frescoes on the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the Bardi Chapel, in the church of Santa Croce in Florence, which Hindemith visited in 1937. He suggested the life of St. Francis to Massine, who was hesitant but eventually accepted; though Massine ended up dancing the role of Francis, he ultimately decided that the score was not really a ballet. Hindemith made a three-movement suite of music excerpted from the ballet, which has had great success on concert programs, but this new disc by the Seattle Symphony and conductor Gerard Schwarz is the first recording of the complete ballet score.

The ballet sets many of the famous episodes from the life of the Poverello of Assisi, beginning with the saint's love of troubadour songs, for which Hindemith incorporates the 13th-century song Ce fut en mai (It was in May), weaving into later parts of the score. Working as a cloth seller for his father, he gives everything he has to a beggar in Assisi, and then pursues a career in the military. He has a vision of three women, representing Humility, Chastity, and Poverty, which causes his change of heart so that he loses all interest in his friends' feasting. He meditates on the message he receives from the icon crucifix in the church of San Damiano, in which Christ told Francis to rebuild his church, and convinces a wolf to stop attacking people in the town of Gubbio, here charming it by pretending to play a violin using two sticks. He celebrates his mystical marriage to Lady Poverty, and the work ends with a movement evoking the composition of the Canticle of the Animals, set as a passacaglia on a six-measure ground bass. Schwarz and his musicians turn in a fine reading of this fascinating score, paired with the Five Pieces for String Orchestra (op. 44/4), although it would be even better to see Massine's choreography with it.

available at Amazon
Hindemith, Hérodiade (complete ballet), Inscape, R. Scerbo

[digital only]
(released on June 24, 2014)
Dorian SL-D-97202 | 20'36"
After Hindemith emigrated to the United States, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned another ballet score from Hindemith, which became Hérodiade, premiered at the Library of Congress in 1944, with Martha Graham dancing the title role. (Get just a taste of Graham's performance as the mother of Salome in the video embedded below.) The score is closely based on Stéphane Mallarmé's dialogue poem, consisting largely of a conversation between Hérodiade and a nurse. Mallarmé labored on the poem for over thirty years but would never complete it. He was still working on the poem when Oscar Wilde published his play Salomé, an act widely criticized as a betrayal of Mallarmé, whose poem he knew. Hindemith scored the ballet for piano, string quintet, and wind quintet, using an unusual system of musical declamation for the instruments, in a way, to "speak" the words. Although the lines of the Mallarmé poem are spoken on top of the music in some performances, Inscape's version leaves the words out altogether, although they remain embedded in Hindemith's music and can still, in a sense, be "heard." While not perhaps a standout, this is a worthy follow-up to Inscape's debut CD last year.


Briefly Noted: Il Diario di Chiara

available at Amazon
Il diario di Chiara, Europa Galante, F. Biondi

(released on February 25, 2014)
Glossa GCD923401 | 72'30"
The Pio Ospedale della Pietà was a rather famous charitable institution in Venice, which took in abandoned children. More than an orphanage, it also provided the girls who chose to stay there a place to live and work, in a sense, as professional musicians or in other occupations. It remains so famous because of the music composed for the girls there to perform, not least by Antonio Vivaldi, who was employed there as chaplain for a part of his career. One of the girls at La Pietà was named Chiara (or Chiaretta), taken in in 1718, when she was two months old, and she became an excellent violinist, trained by one of Vivaldi's students. This new disc from Fabio Biondi and his historically informed performance ensemble, Europa Galante -- their first on the Glossa label -- includes concertos composed for Chiara and pieces that she played in the orchestra at La Pietà. The selection is based on the copies of scores collected together by Chiara herself, a document that is still preserved in the archives of La Pietà.

Biondi takes the solo parts, on both violin and viola d'amore, both of which Chiara mastered, as well as making revised versions of the scores, including reworking a Vivaldi oboe concerto for violin (F Major, RV 457). Particularly fine discoveries on this disc include a sinfonia da camera (G major, op. 2/1, two movements only) by Nicola Porpora, who was based in Venice in the late 1720s, and two concertos dedicated to Chiara, both by Antonio Martinelli (c. 1702-1782), a cellist and composer disciple of Vivaldi's. The playing of Europa Galante is vital and at times slightly sharp and edgy, with Biondi's tone becoming harsh and not quite accurate at fast speeds, but the disc offers an intriguing glimpse inside the life of La Pietà, beyond just the usual connection with Vivaldi. (The disc comes with a bonus DVD, not reviewed, a documentary by Lucrezia Le Moli that explains the story of Chiara and includes footage with the musicians.)


Briefly Noted: San Marco Vespers

available at Amazon
Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

(released on August 26, 2014)
Naïve OP30557 | 79'34"
Rinaldo Alessandrini has led his historically informed performance ensemble, Concerto Italiano, in fine performances of large swaths of Claudio Monteverdi's music, including Orfeo, the madrigals, and the monumental 1610 Vespers. For the group's 30th anniversary, he has made an unusual recording that is both gorgeous and of musicological significance, if rather speculative in nature. Their new disc contains one possible reconstruction of a solemn Vespers service for the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, combining various pieces by Monteverdi from the 1610 Vespers, which represents the fruit of Monteverdi's work in Mantua, and especially from the Selva morale e spirituale, a compilation of pieces made for the forces and acoustic space of San Marco, as well as one of his motet collections. One eight-part canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli and plainchant antiphons and responses from a 17th-century source of the San Marco liturgy make an appropriate nod to the glorious past of the basilica.

The only shortcoming of this reconstruction is that it was not recorded in San Marco itself, not available to the performers "for obvious reasons," according to Alessandrini's program essay. Whatever those obvious reasons may have been, the substitute space, the palatine basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua, has a gorgeous acoustic. Monteverdi's music, which trades on rapid alternations between loud and soft dynamics, full and spare textures, is captured in crisp sound, with the full blossom of those magnificent "concerto" combinations of instruments and singers. Only occasionally does Alessandrini's tendency toward extremely fast tempi trip up his singers in their melismatic passages. In physical release, the disc comes with a DVD (not reviewed) of a movie about Alessandrini's work with Concerto Italiano, directed by Claudio Rufa.


Perchance to Stream: Gaudent Angeli Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence last month, Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble perform Rameau's Les Boréades, starring soprano Julie Fuchs. [France Musique]

  • Listen to another Rameau opera, Castor et Pollux, performed in Montpellier, with Raphaël Pichon conducting the Pygmalion Ensemble, starring Colin Ainsworth, Florian Sempey, and Emmanuelle de Negri. [RTBF]

  • Kirill Petrenko conducts Die Walküre at the Bayreuth Festival, starring Johan Botha, Wolfgang Koch, and Anja Kampe. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Schubert's opera Fierrabras from the Salzburg Festival, with Ingo Metzmacher conducting Julia Kleither, Michael Schade, Dorothea Röschmann, and others. [ORF]

  • From the Salzburg Festival, watch Daniele Gatti conduct Verdi's Il Trovatore, in a production directed by Alvis Hermanis and starring Anna Netrebko, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Francesco Meli, and Plácido Domingo. []

  • Bernard Haitink conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Schubert's fifth symphony and Mahler's fourth symphony. [BBC Proms]

  • Listen to the world premiere of a piece for soprano and orchestra by Manfred Trojahn, Terzinen über Vergänglichkeit, wtih soprano Marlis Petersen, recorded at the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmish in June. [BR-Klassik]


Briefly Noted: Jonathan Dove Song Cycles

available at Amazon
J. Dove, Song Cycles, C. Booth, P. Bardon, N. Spence, A. Matthews-Owen

(released on August 12, 2014)
Naxos 8.573080 | 70'40"
Jonathan Dove is an English composer, specializing in music for voices, with a side career making slimmed-down versions of large operas, most famously, Wagner's Ring Cycle. His music is not performed around here all that often, but we have admired his operas Flight and Tobias and the Angel. This new release brings together four of his song cycles, all previously unknown to me and all worth getting to know. Out of Winter (2003) sets poetry by the late tenor (and accomplished writer) Robert Tear, with themes of late-life regret and the insignificance of human life in the grand sweep of time. Britten-style tenor Nicky Spence, a young singer from Scotland, sings it with bittersweet sincerity. In Cut My Shadow (2011), to brutal poetry of Federico García Lorca translated into English by Gwynne Edwards, Dove uses an accompaniment that mimics the sound of strummed guitar and the rhythms of castanets. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon gives the cutting melodic line a bristling energy, sometimes a little too much, and Andrew Matthews-Owen provides sensitive support at the piano.

Ariel (1998) is the only one of these four cycles that is not receiving its first recording, with texts by Shakespeare drawn from The Tempest, both song texts and spoken lines. Soprano Claire Booth acquits herself well, with just a few signs of scratchy weakness along the way, with no piano to help cover, for the songs have no accompaniment. Dove includes some interesting effects, like the sound of whistling wind or the crash of waves on the shore (a "Shhhhh" noise made by the singer), which appears throughout the cycle, and a big, gulping breath before the line "I drink the air before me" in the last song. The voice bubbles along on its own, seeming to flit mindlessly from thought to unrelated thought, most mesmerizing in the third song, a vocalise on the vowel 'O', which casts a spell. All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996), also sung by Bardon, uses poetry by Vikram Seth, much of it witty epigrams in sing-songy quatrain form. Dove makes them into pleasing miniatures, with a substantial but not overpowering whiff of Broadway and a conclusion that is both tragic and reaffirming.


Classical Music Agenda (October 2014)

The classical music season in Washington gets fully under way in the month of October, meaning that there are definitely more than ten performances on my calendar. Here are the Top Ten that you definitely do not want to miss. The rest of the calendar follows after the jump.

Opera Lafayette returns to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Its staging of Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour (The Celebrations of Marriage and Love, or the Gods of Egypt), the last of Rameau's large-scale opéras-ballets to be revived in the modern era (October 6, 7:30 pm). The dances of the Egyptians, Amazons, and the gods of the Nile will be performed by dancers from the New York Baroque Dance Company, Kalanidhi Dance, and Seán Curran Company.

One of my favorite tenors, Mark Padmore, will give a song recital with pianist Jonathan Biss at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park (October 10, 8 pm). The program features the op. 24 Liederkreis and op. 90 Sechs Gedichte und Requiem by Robert Schumann, Tippett's Boyhood’s End, and Fauré's La Bonne Chanson.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey comes to Washington for the British Choirs Festival at Washington National Cathedral (October 22, 7:30 pm), a space made for a group like them.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton made quite an impression a few years ago, as a young singer with Wolf Trap Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Having won the Marian Anderson Award, Opera International’s Young Artist Award, and the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, her star is on the rise, and she returns to the Barns at Wolf Trap for a recital with Wolf Trap Opera's general director Kim Pensinger Witman at the piano (October 24, 8 pm). The program will include songs and Lee Hoiby’s comic chamber opera Bon Appétit.

The Dover Quartet swept all the prizes at the Banff String Quartet Competition in 2013, and we were the only media outfit to cover their concert in Washington last year. The group returns for a Fortas Chamber Music concert in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 8, 7:30 pm). The program includes Glazunov's Five Novelettes, Mozart's Hoffmeister Quartet, and Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet.

The new piece we most want to hear this season, so far, is Serbian-born Aleksandra Vrebalov's Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, to be given its world premiere by the Kronos Quartet as part of its residency at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park (October 25, 8 pm). The score incorporates music by Bartók and Byzantine hymns, as well as live music, all to accompany a film by Bill Morrison, to mark the centenary of World War I.

When pianist Adam Laloum (pictured) won the Clara Haskil Competition in 2009, we wondered when we would be able to hear him play live. We have a chance when he plays a recital at the Phillips Collection (October 26, 4 pm).

We have reviewed the Belcea Quartet all over the world, including here in Washington. They return to the area for a recital at Shriver Hall in Baltimore (October 26, 5:30 pm), where they were last in 2009, playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.

Pianist Angela Hewitt comes to Washington in October, to play Mozart's 22nd piano concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra (October 9 to 11). Conductor David Zinman, whose time with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra we remember so fondly and who has just stepped down from the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, also leads Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra and Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra.

Let me not sound like Doktor Döhring, the thorn in Richard Strauss's side, and heartily recommend the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's concerts at the end of the month (October 23 in Baltimore, October 26 at Strathmore), combining Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, Scriabin's Poème de l'extase, and Christopher Rouse's Rapture.

The rest of the calendar follows after the jump.


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 9 )
Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner IX

Philharmonia Orchestra 1 • Dohnányi • Camilla Tilling

Phully Harmonias

Above and below pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Click for the whole picture.

With the Te Deum being out of the running already, at this year’s Salzburg Festival, the program of the Philharmonia Orchestra (that most consistently excellent of London’s orchestras) was stuffed with Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. That work, too, goes into the direction of lachrymose farewell, granted, but programmed ahead of the Bruckner it’s not bound to color the appreciation of the Symphony. And it’s an ever appreciated—anniversary or not—gorgeous nod to Strauss.

Behind the wheel of the Philharmonia on Thursday, August 7th, was their former Principal Conductor and now “Honorary Conductor for Life”, Christoph von Dohnányi. The orchestra had performed the piece a few times before heading to Salzburg with it… but that was with Eva-Maria Westbroek who had to cancel her Festival appearance. In place of her Dutch colleague, Swede Camilla Tilling filled in, and how! Soaring, not so much with ease as with drama, she rose above the orchestra which supported her with ever right dynamic shadings to a musical and malleable whole. The orchestral warmth, the honed ensemble playing provided a down-right feathery bed of sounds for Camilla Tilling, who was dressed—obviously!—to catch men’s eyes. It complemented her voice, neither of the very powerful, nor the thin-and-cutting type, very well. If it didn’t sound so darn obvious, it’d say it was a very soprano-ish interpretation, and certainly a wonderfully moving one. Now if the text had been made to be understood a little more easily, too, there wouldn’t have been any quibbling possible at all.

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, "Nachtviolen"
C.v.Dohnányi / Cleveland
For all of Tilling’s splendor, she very nearly got outshone by the concert master’s solo in “Beim Schlafengehen”. That challenging part was not just spot on, accurate and with perfect intonation (one always hopes for that, but usually with gritted teeth of doubtful anticipation), but with such longing and such soulful expression and on top of that with a darkly veneered tone to match that it simply could not have been bettered.

Then for Bruckner:

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 13 )
Der Rosenkavalier • Richard Strauss

Der Rosenkavalier • Richard Strauss

A Rosenkavalier for all Tastes

Pictures above and below courtesy Salzburg Festival © Monika Rittershaus. Click on details to see entire picture.

There’s a buzz at big-ticket opera productions at the Salzburg Festival that you don’t have at concerts, even where the latter sell out. A whiff of excitement is in the air, the dresses are fancier, the hair whiter, and the pleasing feeling of partaking in event abounds. And then there’s even music to listen to, while enjoying the subtle, cultural celebration of one self! Harry Kupfer’s Rosenkavalier is perfect for all that this year: It’s generously cast, well played, and the production itself a brilliant—which is to say functional—compromise between those who are into a bit of good old fashioned costume drama and those who get dust-allergies at the sight of reactionary efforts from yesteryear.

The production relies on gorgeous, vast photo-projections on the wide backdrop of the Grosses Festspielhaus that shows pictures (architectural exteriors and interiors, often drained of color; scenes in the park, near a Heuriger…) in front of which individual props smoothly move about laterally on several lanes: At first the assemblage of mirror, bed, door, decorative amphora & candelabra et al. looked as though it might have been pilfered from Cosí, Otello, Tosca, and I vespri siciliani productions, respectively, but blended in soon enough. Everything fit into the Rosenkavalier time-period from the pre-War years: The Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture in Herr von Faninal’s city palace, the costumes, ditto the car in which Faninal and the Feldmarschallin drove off leaving Sophie and Octavian behind… All very pretty, yet never dusty.

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, "Nachtviolen"
C.Gerhaher & G.Huber

The result was a hands-off approach that relied on the acting of the singers, which was splendid, indeed. Krassimira Stoyanova, in her debut as Feldmarschallin, was all regal warmth, dignified sensuality, and gracious sadness. Sophie Koch was the expectedly fine Octavian—not a surprise, because she’s owned that part for years now (on stage, in concert, on DVD…). But she might have benefited from toning it down just a little further: her fidgety and high-energy flippancy didn’t always make sense in the context of the subdued or shy realism of the others. Not the least Mojca Erdmann’s, who was heartwarmingly lovely and believably innocent-curious-understanding as Sophie. She’s such a slip of a thing, even English critics would