Friday, 11 February 2011

Bartók Stravinsky Salonen Infernal Dance 2

Second concert in Infernal Dance, the major Bartók' series at the South Bank with the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Bartók's Cantata Profana (1930) made a spectacular start to this intelliigently planned programme. What a masterstroke to bring in the Coro Gulbenkian under their Chorus Master Jorge Matta! This choir is almost legendary, as its many fine recordings prove, and travels extensively, but its appearances in this country are all too infrequent. With their roots in baroque polyphony, they are technically flawless, yet they bring individual character to what they sing. The voices are extremely well balanced, so instead of a wash of sound, they sound distinctive, like a good orchestra. Combined with the Philharmonia Voices, also among the best in their field, they demonstrated why the choral parts in this cantata are central to its success.

Cantata Profana is based on a legend about nine young huntsmen who go into a forest pursuing stags but are themselves bewitched and turned into their prey. Bartók writes dense textures into the choruses, so the music evokes the mystery of a primeval forest. The father, baritone Michele Kalmandi, begs his sons to return to safety, but the sons have chosen a more dangerous path. The nine sons are depicted as a unit by one tenor, Attila Fekete, but it is the chorus as forest which dominates the whole work. The choral voices murmur menacingly, full of incident, like shadows in the forest. This is where the personality of the chorus pays dividends. Bartók is using the voices like an orchestra. Towards the end, the sons blend back into the forest, as the tenor sings with the choir. Fekete declaims one last glorious phrase, Czak tista forrásból (but from cool mountain springs) which the choir has been quietly intoning and will continue singing after the tenor goes quiet. Fekete floats this exotic last phrase like a muezzin calling across vast distances. It's meant to sound alien because it's coming from another dimension, far from the rules of the father's household. That's why it's "profane" - it uses a Bachian frame on which to hang ideas that subvert conventional piety.

Please see the rest of this review on Bachtrack, the Very Useful listings database.  Also in the programme was Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps. Salonen interprets this so you can hear the relevance to Bartók,, and images of earth. So Cantata profana can be heard in context. Please also read about the FIRST concert in this series HERE.

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