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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 12 )
Salzburg contemporary • Dalbavie • Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner I

Salzburg contemporary • Dalbavie • Jaroussky • ORF RSO

Dalbavie Beauties, Bruckner Woes


The low lesser-prestige orchestras at the Salzburg Festival get to play in the Felsenreitschule, which is where the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra performed the least attractive (or least prestigious, at least) Bruckner symphony in the Salzburg Bruckner Cycle. And to make sure that it wouldn’t even sell half the venue, they played a contemporary composer… thus stuffing the Salzburg contemporary series and taking that monkey off some other orchestra’s back, where attendance might be better. That’s not cynical, it’s honest, and it is not meant in a denigrating way, except perhaps towards audiences too lazy (?) to care about Marc-André Dalbavie (in this case).

Incidentally, apart from Bruckner-completism, Dalbavie’s pieces were the draw of the concert—especially in lieu of Dalbavie’s opera Charlotte Salomon, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival, which I was to attend a few days later, and which references one of the works on the program with the ORF. As it turned out, the Dalbavie bit also happened to be the by far the better part of the concert.

Having a countertenor on the program doesn’t help with these kinds of audiences, either, not even if the arguably finest available counter tenor of our time—Philippe Jaroussky, for whom the Sonnets de Louise Labé were composed—was going to be the artist in question.

Like the opening work that night, La Source d’un regard, the Sonnets are a work of considerable beauty and little obvious structure… except for the underlying text, of course, which give Dalbavies’ colors of sound, those tonal developments and intermittent outbursts, a corset. Meant to describe La Source, the following goes for the Sonnets as well, to which one ought to add the strong lyrical streak, which Jaroussky brought out mesmerizingly, with vulnerability and yearning beauty:.

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.1
S.Skrowaczewski / Saarbrücken RSO
ArteNova / Oehms

available at Amazon
M-A.Dalbavie et al., La Source d’un regard...
I.Metzmacher / RCO
RCO Live Horizon
Explaining Dalbavie is tough:
“Like Messiaen, his tutor —
except composing diff’rent stuff”
Is one attempt (one of the cruder).

Harp and gongs on humming strings
Trombones that wiggle (why?!)
Woodwinds (and further, other things)
A timpanist—when must—who isn’t shy.

Repeated figures twice or thrice
With some Stravinsky-sim’lar chatter
Help mem’rability and blend in nice

Among the instruments that matter
Forthcoming sounds more scent than spice...
This Spectralism thing gets ever better.

Now what if this music were played by an orchestra that can really do color and atmosphere? One dreams of Chailly guesting his former Concertgebouw Orchestra or even Thielemann* with Dresden on a willing day. But the fact was that the music was effectively communicated by the ORF RSO under Cornelius Meister, and memorably so.

Not so the Bruckner First, in the original “Linz” version. It suffered from ineffectual climaxes, off winds, horns, and cellos, a hissy flute, very little grit… in short: The First was made to sound like Bruckner’s worst symphony, in a way undoubtedly unfair to composer and composition. It doesn’t help to look at Cornelius Meister, whose demeanor is so achingly sincere, so school-boy eager, so incredibly artificial looking, that one is reminded of a bad caricature of the Maestro in front of the mirror and has a hard time even taking the good (which is certainly there) without immediately wanting to dismiss it. But then again, there was so little good in this Bruckner…

*…who does French and contemporary music, despite his being pigeonholed as a WagnerPfitznerStrauss man…

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