Thursday 1 November 2018

Shostakovich Michelangelo Songs : Goerne, Honeck, Finnish Radio Symphony

Manfred Honeck conducted the Finnish Radio Symphony (Radion Sinfoniaorkesteri) in Shostakovich Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti op. 145a (Matthias Goerne, soloist) and Mahler Symphony no 1 livestreamed on Finnish Radio's Areena HERE. Goerne has been singing these Shostakovich songs for years, most recently in the voice and piano versions (with Andsnes, Schhmalcz and Trifonov) so it was good to hear him sing them again with full orchestra, which he's also done, and in the full eleven-song version.

Brooding strings and percussion introduced the first song Istina (Truth) in which Michelangelo states the need for an artist to have integrity, whatever his lords or patrons might prefer to hear. The authority in Goerne's delivery, his timbre as solid as the rock which Michelangelo the sculptor turned into art.  Thus the contrast with the sensuality of Utro (Morning), where the poet describes his lover's golden tresses, garlanded by flowers. Michelangelo's sculptures are so vivid that they seem to pulse with life. Fingers press, making indentations on the marble as if it were living flesh.  Beneath the smooth surface, these sculptures seem to throb as though muscles and blood vessels throbbed within.  thuis the exclamation "What, then, would my arms do" inviting the viewer/listener into the physical experience.  A flute introduces Lyubov (Love) suggesting intimacy, elusive piping figures suggesting lightness, even whimsy, in contrast to the darkness in the vocal line.  Beauty grows when it unites with the heart, and becomes immortal.  Michelangelo, being an artist, lives eternally in the works he left behind.  And so to the expansive long lines in Razluka (Separation) which express distances, in time and in space. The poet cannot live without love, and dies, leaving the memory of his devotion as a pledge. Goerne's voice softens to tender near sotto voce, as if cherishing the miracle of creation, the last phrase held so it floated into stillness.

In Gnev (Wrath) the mood changes, and the orchestra seems to flare up : violent chords, with sharp edges, trumpets, bassoons and trombones : a very masculine rage, ideally suited to the ferocity Goerne can express when needed. The text refers to the way Christ's message is distorted and abused. Chalices are turned into swords and helmets and Christ's blood sold like a commodity in the marketplace.  And thus to Dante, whose visions of heaven and hell inspired great literature, but who was forced into exile, "for his splendour blazed too brightly for common eyes", as Goerne declaims in the next song Izgnanniku (In exile), the curving vocal lines lit by metallic percussion, timpani and baleful low brass and strings.  The orchestra swells, then falls silent around the singer, and surges again like a chorus.  Goerne sings the last line tenderly : "No  man equal, or greater was ever born".  Christ and Dante, visionaries, persecuted for what they believed in. The sharp dissonances in Tvorchestvo (Creativity) suggest hammerblows : the sculptor doggedly chipping away. Alarums and crashing cymbals, shining brass and winds, and metallic bells, suggesting the triumph of art over base material.  In Night (Noch') Strozzi marvels at a statue: can the angel be stone, if she seems asleep ? A somnolent postlude to Stnerf (Death), where the strings seem to pulsate, like a human body at rest, trumpets calling as in nightwatch.  In Bessmertie (Immortality), the poet reflects. Through what he has created, the artist lives on, his art inspiring those who understand his work.  The piping flute duet of Lyubov (Love) returns : love is a force of life, brightly carrying on the torch.  Goerne's voice grows firm and full, buoyed up by conviction. Powerful chords in the orchestra, a moment of stillness broken by staccato suggesting the hammerblows in Tvorchestvo (Creativity).  Since Goerne hasn't recorded Shostakovich's Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti this performance from Helsinki with Honeck should be treasured.  As a bonus, there's an interview with him on the broadcast where he speaks about the piece. 

An enjoyable Mahler Symphony no 1 from Honeck and the RSO. What a good orchestra this is ! There are connectiond that could be made between Shostakovich Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Mahler's First Symphony. Indeed Goerne has a programme in his repertoire which deals specifcally with the connections between Mahler's Early Songs and this particular set of Shostakovich songs. Please read more HERE, it's good.  For example, the idea of Titans, which gets sneered at because the tage was not used by Mahler himself. But Mahler and his contemporaries knew their classics better than modern audiences do. They would have known about the race of Titans who were very strong, but venal, and were supplanted by proper Gods. Base material turned into art, just as Michelangelo would have done.  Not in this performance though which emphasized the Spring like aspects of the symphony and its youthful spirit 

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