Monday 12 January 2015

Schumann Das Paradies und die Peri, Rattle, LSO Barbican

Is  Robert Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri an oratorio or an experiment towards a new form of music theatre?   Simon Rattle and the LSO at the Barbican,  London,  confirmed its rightful place in the repertoire.  It's a wonderful piece which, like all truly original work, defies pigeonholes. 

The Peri is a half-human, half-demon Mischling who has to die to be redeemed. The original poem, Lallah Rookh, by Thomas Moore, titillated 19th century readers because its exoticism confounded comfortable, Christian concepts.Perhaps that's exactly why Schumann chose to set it. References to Bach flow through the piece so frequently that it's clear that Schumann is making a statement. Yet the subject might have appalled Bach's more devout listeners. There are references, too, to Mendelssohn's  oratorios, like Elijah, and to his songs, particularly Auf Flügeln  des Gesangs, with its images of flying across night skies to the Ganges, to palm trees, to lotus blooms (read  my piece on it here)   What secret message is Schumann sending?  The late John Daverio called Schumann "the Herald of a New Poetic Age"  Would Schumann, had he lived, heralded a new musical age ?  By 1843, he'd proved his mastery of Lieder. Might he not have turned his attention to experiment with new forms of music drama as an outgrowth from his immersion in the literature and music of his time?  There are references to Weber, for example, as there are in Schumann's opera Genoveva (read more HERE).  Das Paradies und die Peri is a sophisticated approach to music drama, not a throwback to a time before Wagner changed the whole game plan.

Rattle has conducted  Das Paradies und die Peri with the Berliner Philharmoniker and has conducted it in London before, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. This LSO performance was warmly received, but not quite in the same league. In the first part, textures and tempi weren't as sharp as they might have been, though things picked up immeasurably in the second half.  Go to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall for a really definitive performance. We love the LSO. our home band, but they aren't quite in the same league. The female soloists are the same. In London, we had Mark Padmore whose extensive experience in Bach oratorios helps make the Bach connection more obvious, especially to new audiences. We also had Florian Boesch whose 'Jetzt sank des Abends goldner Schein" was  extraordinarily moving. The part isn't big yet the passage and its partner "Mit ihren Schwester" are critical, so it really needs the authoritative, clear definition which Boesch brought to it. The connection between the bass and the fluttery quartet of Peris was wonderful. The biggest part, however, falls to the Peri. Sally Matthews's diction-free billowing sound was certainly enthusiastic, though there's much more depth to the Peri than she got here. Bernarda Fink has been singing Das Paradies und die Peri  longer than anyone else. In 1999 she sang the Angel for John Eliot Gardiner, whose concerts and recording transformed the fortunes of this work. It's still the benchmark, I think, though Harnoncourt with the Bayerischen Rundfunks Orchester (which also features Bernarda Fink) is also good.  She also sang for Rattle with the OAE, when she stood among the chorus, and her voice shone forth, like an angel. Bernarda Fink deserves some kind of award for services to Schumann. 

This Rattle/LSO concert was recorded for the LSO's own label. Worth hearing for Padmore and Boesch, but to be honest, Gardiner, Harnoncourt and Rattle/Berlin are the ones to go for. 

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