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“18” – Munich. Schumann, Paradise & Peri. Simon Rattle / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Just back from Bill Viola's and Esa-Pekka Salonen's Tristan in Dortmund, I caught the BRSO’s Season-opener:

With the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s concert over, the audience was expulsed from Munich’s Herkulessaal—left to ponder whose sins, Schumann’s, the conductor’s, or perhaps theirs, had caused them to barely glimpse, yet never truly experience paradise on this ambitious occasion.

available at AmazonR.Schumann, Das Paradies & die Peri,
Röschmann, Fink, Güra, Gerhaher / N. Harnoncourt / BRSO & Chorus
None other than Simon Rattle, in his first appearance with a German Orchestra other than his Berlin Philharmonic, opened the season for the BRSO, and he brought a program dear to him: Schumann’s cantata Das Paradies und die Peri, and soloists dear to him: very dear alto Magdalena Kožená (Angel) of course, and professionally appreciated sopranos Sally Matthews (Peri) and Kate Royal (Maiden), tenors Topi Lehtipuu (narrator) and Andrew Staples and baritone David Wilson-Johnson.

All the ingredients of success were given: A glorious cast, an orchestra rearing to get the season started in style, perfectly primed for this perfume-drenched score we very rarely (if at all) get to hear in concert, and a conductor to whose heart the work is clearly close. After an hour and a half of unwavering beauty, sumptuous sameness, and amorphous gorgeousness, the feeling was not so much elation as it was exhaustion and oversaturation. On the upside, there had been much to marvel at. Kožená may be a mandatory item when hiring Sir Simon, but no complaints (yet): Nepotism has rarely sounded better. Matthews and Royal are among the UK’s very loveliest. A compliment about their singing, that—but one easily extrapolated to cover any other imaginable aspect. Topi Lehtipuu proved very satisfying to my ears, too. His voice was not at all that of the opera singer he is (I had last heard him in Eötvös’ "Tragedy of the Devil"), but rather a pure Mendelssohn voice, a round and warm oratorio tenor with minimal vibrato, great calm and comfort.

Peri, from one of the four stories of Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh collection, is a figure of Persian mythology who—thanks to some never explicitly mentioned all-too-saucy behavior—finds herself with Paradise lost, trying desperately to regain favor with the powers of the Garden of Eden. Life-loving yet repentant, earnest and perhaps naïve, it seems to fit Sally Matthews like a glove. Matthews, a supreme actress capable and willing to participate in any romp, exudes extreme tastefulness and grace, almost modest and yet subversively awesome. Next to her natural understatement and a very clever black dress even the stylishly donned-up Kožená—a Grande Dame between two lovely girls—was reduced visually to a supporting role.

With appropriate vibrato, pronounced but never allowed to roam free, her strong, deep, almost throaty soprano was put to simply exquisite use, assuming one likes a sound that is not at all round or creamy but also devoid of harsh edges . Thus she sings Peri seemingly straight down the middle, lovely, light, and clean, innocent… except only on the surface. Matthews lets on with more than a fair share of subtle signs that the still waters of her Peri run deep, that she hasn’t been denied paradise for nothing. All the way down to how she colors her vowels we are afforded suggestions of depth and delightful depravity. The final scene with her and the magnificent BR Chorus—“Freud, ewge Freude, mein Werk ist getan…”—was the spectacle that Schumann had aimed for—a true treat for all who stayed awake.

If this evening didn’t turn out a pean to Schumann, at least it was one to Matthews.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you mention how bad Sally Matthews and Topi Lehtipuu's German is??? It was a torture to hear them singing. You just can't hear the content of their singing even with the text in front of you.