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27.12.07

Top 10 Live Performances, Ionarts at Large

Yesterday's Top 10 Live Performances year-in-review post was limited to music we have reviewed here in the Washington area. In 2007, however, Ionarts also brought you reviews from New York, Santa Fe, France, Italy, Germany, and other places, and here are the best performances we heard during our travels.

Vadim Repin Plays Schnittke (Carnegie Hall, March 27):

What a delight and joy to be presented with the wacky, wild, and wondrous Fourth Violin Concerto by Alfred Schnittke, instead! The musical gods seemed to have smiled upon me, even if many audience members more likely gritted their teeth. They should not have, because this concerto, even if its fourth movement is probably a little too long for its own good, is music to smile about and laugh at... it’s entertainment in the best sense. It toys with beauty and the listeners’ expectations before it irreverently pulls the rug out from underneath them. It’s a creative and unique collage of styles; it is part serene, part surreal. (Jens F. Laurson)
Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu (New York Philharmonic, March 29)
The almost nervously active, entirely playful and animated Mitsuko Uchida on one side, on the other Radu Lupu, understated, relaxed and contributing his part to K.365 with casual flair, leaning back on a regular chair as if only half-involved – that was the curious and utterly delightful sight when these two artists came together on stage for the Concerto for Two Pianos. Lupu had his arms crossed whenever he wasn’t sprinkling and thumping notes from the keyboard into Alice Tully Hall. (Jens F. Laurson)
Wagner, The Flying Dutchman (Munich Staatsoper, May 11):
Traditionally that is achieved by going into the water. But in Konwitschny's set there is no convenient rock to throw herself from. In her increasingly mad state of mind, she topples the barrels that are stored in the port facility. The keen eye sees the explosive sign on them. As she utters her last words - along the lines of "I'll show you how faithful I can be - until death" - she takes a candle and moves suspiciously toward the barrels. In the performance I just had time to think to myself: "Oh, no you're not going to..." And as it became clear that she was, I thought: "Well, you can't possibly can pull it off, realistically, in the theater..." (Jens F. Laurson)
R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier (Munich Staatsoper, June 15, 2007):
With Adrianne Pieczonka, Munich may have found a new favorite Marschallin. Sophie Koch's Octavian was a happy combination of excellent (and believable!) acting and singing. Diana Damrau was the most sublime Sophie. Eike Wilm Schulte as Herr von Faninal (wonderful in the Washington Daphne) and John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs just about held their own against such a formidable female cast. The female trio, in whichever combination, was able to move to tears- to present the highly intelligent libretto in its best and most realistic light- to give the already glorious music that last touch that elevates it to pure genius. The sincerity, the nuances, the clarity, the warmth and melancholia (Pieczonka), the excited, naive yet also knowing (Damrau), the boyishly eager and earnest (Koch) were such, that the characters were recreated in front of the audience, despite the models and idols of the past and all the audience's preconceived notions and expectations. I know that I will consider myself very lucky should I ever hear such a fine female cast in a live Rosenkavalier again. (Jens F. Laurson)
Wagner, Die Walküre, La Fura dels Baus (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, June 29):
The acrobats of the Fura dels Baus troupe did not make an appearance until the third act, when they represented the dead warriors being gathered up during the Ride of the Valkyries. In a powerful image, they were an immobile mass of bodies, swinging back and forth on a huge globe. Some bodies lay on the stage floor, pierced with arrows like pin cushions. In the most stunning display of the cycle thus far, four of the Valkyries soared around the stage on the levitating platforms as they sang. Because the battle-maidens could be extended out over the orchestra, as well as above one another and really into our faces (we were seated this time in a side box with an excellent view), this was truly the most convincingly staged Ride of the Valkyries I have ever seen. (Charles T. Downey)

Video of a rehearsal of Ride of the Valkyries

Berlin Staatskapelle, Mahler Fifth Symphony (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, July 3):
[Barenboim's] conducting, musical approach, and even work at the piano are robust, tending toward emotional outbursts, tense and exciting build-ups, and above all, powerful sound. This was a full-voiced Mahler, with Barenboim massing sound into monolithic blocks. Thrilling moments, dominated by the impressive brass section, abounded in the middle part of the funeral march, and even more in the vehement opening of the second movement and the crushing loudness of the last. At the same time, Barenboim paid careful attention to scaling sections down to bring out unusual voicings and colors. The contrabassoon and triangle popped out of the softer part of the second movement, as did a stunning cello solo, so pure and sweet, leading to that powerful crescendo. Superb solo horn playing was featured in the gently undulating scherzo movement, with those strange stylistic turns -- a little balalaika serenade, a pretty music box aria. (Charles T. Downey)
Monteverdi, Orfeo, Concerto Italiano (Estate Musicale Chigiana di Siena, July 11):
As you might expect from listening to Alessandrini's recordings, he conducts with exciting verve. When not accompanying recitatives or playing on either the portative organ or the harpsichord stacked on top of it, he lunged toward the singers or instrumentalists, indicating with his agitated dancing or gentle gestures the musical spirit he wanted to create. Even for someone familiar with the score, Alessandrini's direction regularly surprised, from the shockingly florid embellishments (by the awe-inspiring cornetti, played by Doron Sherwin and Fiona Russell, in the famous opening toccata or by singers, as in La Musica's strophic prologue) to the sometimes unusual choice of tempo (a very fast opening ritornello to "Io la Musica son," for example, and unexpectedly languid sections in "Lasciate i monti"). (Charles T. Downey)
Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Settimana Musicale Senese, July 14):
The eight singers, the piano, and other instruments were picked up by microphones, which created the appearance of an electronic production, reminiscent of musique concrète. The Swingle Singers mostly created glistening dissonant chords in close harmonic arrangements or added to the chaotic effects of the orchestra by whispering or shouting. The first tenor -- the part sung by Ward Swingle, the group's founder -- recited most of the narration, drawn from Claude-Lévi Strauss's Le cru et le cuit, a study of Brazilian traditional mythology relating to the origin of water, and Samuel Beckett's L'Innommable. From the third movement on, there is also English commentary on the experience of listening to Sinfonia -- "it's a compulsory show," "perhaps it is a recitation, someone reciting selected passages," and "waiting for it to start -- that is the show." The postmodern attitude, deconstructing the work and the listener's possible experiences of it, is made specific with references to the citations of the Resurrection symphony ("there was even for a moment a chance of resurrection") and with the words directed to the conductor at the close of the fourth movement ("Thank you, Mr. Antonio Pappano"). It could be characterized as the dialogue of voices inside a puzzled listener's head or like a berserk color commentary on the action. (Charles T. Downey)
Rameau, Platée (Santa Fe Opera, August 7):
Bicket amusingly gave up his baton to a frog after Act II, when during the long set change a bored-acting frog beside the audience began gesturing for the conductor to begin the introduction to Act III. Bicket finally complied, and the frog strutted through the audience, perched behind the conductor, and began messing with his hair. Bicket lunged after the frog, though the frog escaped, only to return (after grabbing a bass player’s music and handing it to an audience member) to steal Bicket’s baton, cut off the orchestral introduction at its actual end, and take a massive frog bow to applause from the real audience. (Michael Lodico)
Cavalli, La Calisto (Munich Staatsoper, November 7):
One of the last new productions under the auspices of the former General Manager Sir Peter Jonas, it brings together Munich’s “Dream Team” of Baroque opera, director David Alden and Ivor Bolton. The entire team, including the principal singers, have continuously worked on and fine tuned this Calisto. And the continuous work shows. La Calisto is a unity of music, singing, and staging that the composer and librettist (Giovanni Faustini) could never have imagined. The set (Paul Steinberg) and the costumes (Buki Shiff) are a colorful and quirky romp that seduce on the account of their visual appeal and they remove the story from any particular time or period (as should be, in a story about Gods, Demigods, and Nymphs) by means of abstraction. Words won’t quite do justice to the amorphous walls with patterns of bright swirls, or the long bar where the subsidiary characters (Pane, Silvano, Satirino et al.) get together for a drink, accompanied by assorted non-speaking creatures chosen from the signs of the zodiac and a most amusingly realistic, dramatically oversized drink-serving chameleon. (Jens F. Laurson)

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