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3.6.10

Ionarts-at-Large: Britten vs. Purcell, Champions League


available at Amazon
H.Purcell, Odes for St.Cecilia's Day, Music for Queen Mary,
A.Parrot / Taverner Consort
Virgin Classics



B.Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Young Person's Guide et al.,
Pešek et al. / Royal Liverpool Phil., ECO et al.
EMI
The overlap of Britten- and Football fans seems to be bigger than you might expect… the many empty seats in the Philharmonic hall of the Gasteig more likely due to the football match of Bayern Munich vs. Internationale Milano that evening, rather than Purcell-Britten. (Although for the Munich Philharmonic’s audience, Britten does constitute risqué programming.)

By the time Andrew Manze elicits the first notes of Purcell’s drum-rolling funeral march of Queen Mary at 7:07PM (the same music that opens Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), the players of Bayern and Inter are still in their hotels, soon to be on their way to the Estadio Bernabéu in Madrid, the home pitch of Real Madrid, where the Champions League final 2010 will take place.

After the In nomine à 7 and Fantazia à 4 and the Abdelazar Rondeau, the grave, sweetly regal Chacony—this all being Purcell channeled through the orchestral medley arranged by Britten—glides along with professional dignity imbued onto it by the slightly reduced forces of the Munich Philharmonic. Then the drums of the repeated funeral march bring us full circle.

7:20PM. In Madrid, the players are climbing out of their buses. In Munich, the ‘bringing Britten to the People’ program gets fully under way. Britten is still a missionary task on the continent: his operas are not nearly as present in the repertoire as their quality would mandate; his orchestral works are rarities on the programs of major orchestras. Few pieces would seem better suited to convince stubborn, habit-inhibited ears of Britten’s music than the Four Sea Interludes: adult Britten in all its uncompromising glory and at his most visceral. Four suites of in lush, animated gray—Northern Sea waves breaking over decks and lapping against the hulls of our expectations.

Arjen Robben, Bayern’s right offensive midfielder, knows the Bernabéu stadium well; the Dutch national played one season for Real Madrid before being dumped onto Bayern for a loss of €11m, deemed by Madrid too injury-prone and, well, not enough Christiano Ronaldo. Creating havoc on any opponent teams’ left side, and his injury problems gone, he became an instant star at Bayern, scoring the crucial goals against Florence and Manchester to advance Bayern to this final. With his congenial French counterpart on the other flank, Franck Ribery, suspended for the match, a Bayern victory will likely depend on whether Inter can or cannot take Robben out of the game.

8:05PM. The Sinfonia da Requiem op.20 recalls the Purcell with its opening timpani strokes, drawing yet more parallels in this very intelligently designed program. The Munich trumpets are in impressive shape—as is the whole brass section—the orchestra’s grunt workers—that night. For all the pacifist intent of the Requiem, the timpani do sound magnificently martial, infernal, then fragmented, and eventually led out of violent disarray by an orphic saxophone line.

If Robben’s genius is akin to the flights of a first violinist or a quick clarinet run up and down the pitch, Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger are the brass section of Bayern—watching the back of their creative front-men and keeping the game of possession and attack that coach Louis van Gaal has taught them to play going. They’re heavy working with a little less glory coming their way, and a fair amount of sliding tackles for good measure.

8:22PM. The last notes of the Requiem fade, moved and contemplative applause uneasily vies with reflection and gratitude. The impression from the audience suggests this to be the most successful part of the evening. But Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” is still up, and Konstantin Wecker, a Munich singer-songwriter, will read the complete (translated) text so that all the music—usually cut—can be heard in a setting that makes sense. He jokes that the attendance—better than feared, apparently—attests a victory of culture over football, but that strikes me as too optimistic. I wouldn’t be there, for one, if I didn’t have realistic hopes of catching most of the game, if only the applause won’t last too long.

Fifteen minutes to kickoff: For the players in the locker rooms nervousness gives way to pure adrenaline, each of them knowing this could be the most important club match of their career. There is less pressure on the Munich Philharmonic players to wind their way through the Guide, and the brass belts out the Purcell-theme (full circle, once more) with weighty glory, eminently suitable as a fanfare to the 22 players that enter the pitch just about at that moment. Taking his bows, Wecker feigns a footballing gene when he comes out donning a Bayern scarf and bringing one for Manze (who doesn’t seem quite to know what to do with it—Beckenham, whence he hails, features only hockey and tennis). If he had any true sense for the game, he’d get off the stage instead—which is what a few players and half the audience seem to await eagerly. Panting, I sit down in the nearest pub, just minutes later, having missed merely 12 minutes of the game so far.

With my allegiance firmly with the red of Bayern, not the black’n’blue of Inter, the Nerazzuri, I could probably have spared myself the rush. Despite nearly 70% possession, twice as many shots, trice the number of corners, Bayern looses on two goals by Diego Milito and—to be honest—never really had a chance. It seems only fair that at least the Britten was excellent.

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