Friday, 3 September 2010

F-X Roth, Rameau, Canteloube, Henry Wood Prom 63

François-Xavier Roth is creating waves because he's such a forthright personality, so individualistic. France seems to produce pioneers like this who follow their artistic integrity. Very different from the increasing conformity of the Anglophone world. France and Germany are where it's at. Roth's exciting because he's eclectic, passionate about early music and new, with a special interest in voice. This may be the "next generation" in music, where ancient and modern  fertilize each other. Genre's no barrier to the creative spirit.

Barely 40, Roth  has conducted Ensemble Intercontemporain, worked with John Eliot Gardiner's's Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, and is just about to become chief conductor at SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, Hans Rosbaud's old orchestra.

Watch the TV broadcast of Prom 63 if you can, though the audio only is just as vivid, because Roth's got presence as well as vision. Conductors have to be communicators, spreading their enthusiasm to inspire the listener. Nonetheless, it's certainly not for show that Roth conducts the suite of  Rameau's Dardanus with an antique drum. That's historically informed. Lully died beating percussion into his foot. The opera Dardanus is a series of tableaux with dance, so rhythmic stability is essential.  Percussion is fundamental to dance and to many forms of music that have grown from folk roots. How vivacious Roth makes the BBC National Orchestra of Wales sound! Totally contemporary, yet connected to ancient traditions, even to non-western form.  Late 19th century style isn't by any means the only way to go.

Perhaps that's why Roth followed Rameau with Joseph Canteloube's Songs from the Auvergne. Canteloube was interested in the Auvergne because it was so different,  less "civilized" than the rest of France, with a singular regional identity. In the mountains, life's harsh. Peasants have to make their own music, so it's timeless. I've long loved Véronique Gens and Sandrine Piau in this repertoire, rather than opera singers who turn to it when their voices age. Now, Anna Caterina Antonacci joins the illustrious.  She's excellent because she sounds youthful and vigorous, as befits simple songs about peasant life and the open air. No unnecessary decoration, but pure and direct, and beautiful for that very reason.

Again, genres blur. Canteloube wasn't writing faux medieval. He was writing modern music inspired by the unique Auvergne dialect and character. Not so different, really, from Ravel's Basques or Cezanne's rugged landscapes. Or, for that matter from Ferneyhough's response to early polyphony ( PCM 5) or Luke Bedford's Or voit tout en aventure.

Again, Roth's musical adventure leads to Martin Matalon's Lignes de fuite ("convergence lines").  It  moves like a series of visual images - Pictures at an Exhibition, already! Each turn is vivid and colourful, music that's fun to grasp. Immediately I thought, this guy should be writing for film, and sure enough he does. Matalon's wrote a new score for Fritz Lang's Metropolis, commissioned by IRCAM.  Since then the film has been restored with newly-discovered footage. This is being screened (with original score) at the ICA from 10th September. I've already seen it and will be writing about it in more depth. It's seminal.

Just as Roth started with Rameau's tableaux, he ended this very intelligent porogramme with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. But not the familiar Ravel version, but Sir Henry Wood's, created 7 years before Ravel.  This was fascinating,  ornamentation like heavy gilding, edges neatly smoothed over. The sensibilities of a confident British Empire applied to Mussorgsky's untamed Russianness. The Great Gate of Kiev as the Royal Albert Memorial. And why not? Each era remakes in its own forms, and we learn from hearing things in different ways. Roth's logic works. Mix genres and make more of what you hear.

photo credit :  Céline Gaudier

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