Sunday, 5 March 2017

Pierre Boulez Saal opening concert : Schubert Der Hirt auf dem Felsen

The Opening Concert  of the Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin's new hall for chamber recitals.  Daniel Barenboim  did the honours in the Mozart Piano Quartet KV 493, with his son, Michael, the violinist, beside him.  No way would a concert as significant as this have been  complete without a star like Barenboim.  The invisible star, nonetheless was Pierre Boulez, for whom the hall is named. Fittingly, the concert began and ended with Boulez: Initiale initiating proceedings, with Sur Incises as the grand highlight. Both pieces also demonstrated the acoustic and flexibility of this new hall.  It's more than a recital hall, since it can be adapted for larger ensembles and even, potentially, for chamber opera.  Seating seems generous, so backstage facilities might also be of the same high standard.  Coffin-shaped concert halls are dead.  London, wake up!

Barenboim will also be remembered for posterity because he nurtures young musicians, just as he himself was nurtured when he was a child prodigy. It was good to hear Karim Said, whom Barenboim has mentored since childhood. Please see my article Why we need  to know who Karim Said Is from 2008. Said has matured nicely. He was the soloist in Alban Berg's Kammerkonzert for piano, violin and thirteen winds, with Barenboim as conductor. Later, Said was the lead pianist in Sur Incises.  Jörg Widmann appeared, both as clarinettist and as composer, performing his own Fantasie. The whole concert can be heard on repeat here, a good idea since you can fast forward past the inordinately long breaks between pieces.   You can see who's in the audience, too - Simon Rattle. 

Being a Lieder person,  I was keen to hear Schubert Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D 965 with  Barenboim, Widmann  and the incomparable Anna Prohaska.  Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptmann, the celebrity coloratura of her day, wanted a showpiece that would test her range and artistry. Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is a challenge, even for the finest performers.  The piano part is dense, "rock-like" in its complexity, and the clarinet part equally daunting. But the soprano is the star. The piece runs for twelve minutes, connecting three different poems (Wilhelm Müller and Karl August Vernhagen).  Schubert's setting replicates the imagery in the first poem,  Müller's Der Berghirt, whiuch describes a young shepherd, sitting high on a rock on a mountain, looking down on the valley below, where his beloved lives, far away. Thus the extremes of height and depth,the soprano's voice soaring upwards, while the clarinet's lower register floats seductively around her, sometimes in duet.

In the early part of the 19th century, there was a craze for "Alpine" music connecting the Romantic concepts of Nature, purity and freedom with picturesque mountain scenery and peasant simplicity.   Weber's Der Freischütz premiered in 1821 and Rossini's William Tell in 1829, the year after Schubert wrote this remarkable song. Tragically, it was his last completed work., but it might indicate how Schubert might have progressed had he survived.  Later in the century,"Alpine opera", such as La Wally came into vogue.   Strauss and Mahler wrote music in which mountains appear, figuratively. Indeed,  the whole genre of Bergfilm is an adaptation of the style. Lots on this site about mountains in music and Bergfilme.

Although the soprano in Der Hirt auf dem Felsen certainly does not yodel, the idea of a song designed to carry over long distances applies, and requires good breath control (as do pan pipes and Alpenhorn), Milder-Hauptmann and Schubert no doubt realized the piece would be a tour de force.   Prohaska was wonderful, singing with mellifluous grace.  Her words rang clear and true.

"Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wieder klingt
Von unten

In the last section, Prohaska's voice trilled deliciousl, .duetting with Widmann's clarinet. Tricky phrasing, but joyously agile, like a mountain spirit. 

"Der Frühling will kommen,
Der Frühling, meine Freud',
Nun mach' ich mich fertig
Zum Wandern bereit

It might seem trivial, but I loved the outfit Prohaska wore: cropped trousers, knee-high boots and a long jacket.  Very elegant, yet also reminiscent of a 19th century traveller, a poet or a wanderer.

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