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REsound Beethoven & Schubert/Liszt and Lisa Larsson's "Ah Perfido" Revelation

It’s the mantra of the Vienna Academy Orchestra’s REsound Project that for an approximation of an original sound and originalesque experience, not just instruments and bows and strings need to be authentic or historical, but that the rooms and their acoustic influence the performance as much, if not more. As such, each of the REsound concerts of the VAO are tests of that theory and are, in their way, …resounding confirmations of that theory.

The Beethoven Ninth in the comparatively vast Redoutensaal (reviewed on Forbes: Vienna: Premiering Beethoven Symphonies All Over Again) gave an element of lively chaos and struggle. The large Hall of the Academy of Sciences proved an ideally suited mix of intimacy and space for Schubert’s Ninth to blossom in a particularly well-played concert (reviewed on Forbes: Beethoven And Schubert Almost On Original Location: A REsounding Success).The Theater an der Wien, meanwhile, is no longer the old venue it was in Beethoven’s time and it did not lend itself to the program the VAO performed there (Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto) by sucking up the sound. The tiny Eroica Hall of the Palais Lobkowitz meanwhile offered an in-your-face exciting, direct concert of the symphony that has since given the hall its name.

And now, at the Palais Niederösterreich, the historical Estates House of Lower Austria in downtown Vienna (and seat of the Lower Austrian government until 1997), in the ornate, renovated, 3700ft² Hall of the State Diet, turned out rather an ideally suited place again, much like the Hall of the Academy of Sciences. Now the Palais Niederösterreich’s grand hall with its vast ceiling fresco on the wooden dropped ceiling may not be where any of the works on this program of the VAO were premiered – or even ever performed during their lifetime (though Beethoven’s First Symphony was), but the music feels right at home in this hall, which is not surprising, because this is exactly the kind of place such music was performed in (and written for), until purpose-built, dedicated concert halls became the norm.

available at Amazon

L.v.Beethoven, Sy. #7, Wellington's Victory,
REsound Cycle v.2
Vienna Academy Orchestra / M.Haselböck

available at Amazon

L.v.Beethoven, Egmont, Consecration of the House Ovt.,
REsound Cycle v.3
Vienna Academy Orchestra / M.Haselböck / John Malkovich

The natural, benevolent and reasonably reverb-rich acoustic made the coordinated and very nicely playing Vienna Academy Orchestra shine and glow. That helped in the opening Schubert Overture in the Italian Style, D.591, a little number Schubert had tossed off recently in Grinzing[1] – which had just the right lightness to not pretend being more than it is, and just the panache to prevent us from questioning whether it really is just that: a charming firecracker to go off before the main musical courses were served.

Those consisted of the Eroica Symphony in the second half, now liberated from its premiere-location and played to an audience of ~300, rather than an economically unsustainable eighty. The REsound recording project wants, where possible, to tape these symphonies in these premiere spaces for a complete symphony cycle, which makes sense – although a recording of this earlier performance from the Eroica Hall did not manage to capture the raw energy of the event and sounds strangely off; the only dud among the lot so far. If the REsound cycle ever becomes a complete set, how nice would it be if that Eroica could be re-recorded. This latest performance from February 19th[2], granted not in the most authentic setting possible, would have done nicely:

Bang! Bang! The opening induced a few skipped heartbeats in the still chatty and then immediately silent audience… But loud’n’quick wasn’t this interpretation’s principal MO or quality. More importantly it was the separation of the music that became obvious in this setting: For one there’s a carpet of strings, with chamber-music-like wind and brass band making the music above it. Then there are brief movements of a real tutti, which stand out as such. There’s a bit of trading back and forth of musical bits, and there are connecting, story-advancing passages just for the strings. It makes you appreciate how the music was constructed and it makes you glimpse how this music may have been perceived at the time. It certainly differs considerably from a modern orchestra, where the non-string instruments are much more homogenously embedded and everything sounds more or less like a grand, continuous tutti-section. The symphony’s funeral march – as measured by the would-be ball bearer’s steps – was perfectly doable; not carrying the coffin for any longer than necessary but also not in a rush to the grave. In any case, tempo is subjective and it is dependent on space, not just time, and it felt right. And really, it is not actually a funeral march, it is only a middle movement in a symphony with the tempo indication: “Very much at ease” – Adagio assai. The gorgeous oboe part was played particularly superbly.

If this wasn’t the highlight, it was thanks to Lisa Larsson. Two songs of Schubert’s orchestrated by Franz Liszt (“Lied der Mignon” and “Gretchen am Spinnrade”) became operatic adventures. Lisa Larsson, in the golden autumn days of her career, sings with all the expressive beauty of a life in music (and outside) lived. Efficiency and skill enabled her to navigate the songs where the remaining raw material of her voice alone may not provide her that support. She soared – yes, perhaps on fumes, but also amber ether – and made herself heard just the same. Schubert and Liszt both being specialties of the orchestra and conductor Martin Haselböck, probably also helped to make this come together so very harmoniously. That was still before the half; Lisa Larsson came back for more – and the real corker of the evening – in the second: “Ah perfido”, the stalwart Beethoven concert aria, taken at a rapid clip, became an electric aria with a punch, rather than an elegiac grand celebratory affair. A wonderful surprise to hear a revered and slightly boring work so having blown the cobwebs off.

[1] Allegedly a dare on Rossini’s overtures: “I can do that” – and so he did.
[2] The second of two and a matinee -- which didn’t, however, work against it.

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