Tuesday 28 January 2020

Vivacious Schumann Symphonies 1 & 3, John Eliot Gardiner, LSO

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, from the Barbican Hall, London in 2019, now available on CD. This recording captures the verve and spontaniety of live performance, which further enhances the vividness of expression.  Schumann's Symphony no 1 in B flat major,Op. 38, (1841) and his Symphony No. 3  in E flat major, Op. 97, (1850), together with the Overture to Manfred Op. 115 (1848). (For my review of Schumann Symphonies no 2 & 4 with Gardiner and the LSO, please see here)

Following on from Gardiner's Mendelssohn series with the LSO, this Schumann series presented Schumann as Early Romantic, his sensibilities shaped by Mendelssohn and Weber.  In the last few decades, the assumption that Schumann's orchestrations were "inept and clunky" and needed "fiddling and re-touching", to quote Gardiner, has long since been refuted, as musicians and audience have come to appreciate Schumann on his own terms, demonstrated by the number of performances and recordings in recent years inspired by this fresh approach. Gardiner's Schumann series with the LSO is significant because, more than most conductors, he comes from a background immersed in period style and aesthetics.  The London Symphony Orchestra doesn't use period instruments, but that in itself means much less than their understanding of the aesthetics of informed perfomance practice.

Having established his reputation as a composer of music for solo piano, Schumann turned to works for voice and piano, influenced in no small part by his marriage to Clara.  The glorious outpouring of his Liederjahre  saw the creation of masterpieces like Dichterliebe, where individual songs form a larger work internally connected by theme and form.  Appreciating Schumann's Symphony no 1 in this context helps us appreciate him as symphonist. The associations with Spring aren't merely descriptive, but may refer to the Early Romantic symbolism of Spring as purity, simplicity and the freshness of Nature. In four movements, the symphony is "classical" though the spirit is distictively individual.  The exuberant fanfare follows speech rhythms,  quoting a line from the poet Adolf Böttger, "Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf". The andante picks up to vigorous allegro molto vivace, ending with emphatic affirmation. This accentuates the restraint of the second movement, which briefly had the title "Evening".  The scherzo repeats the fanfare, this time more earthy, highlighting the charm of the two trios. "The fanastic, mercurial humour of Schumann's great solo piano cycles", says Gardiner, "is here recreated brilliantly in orchestral terms". The final movement quotes Schubert's C Major symphony, the "Great", whose manuscript Schumann had uncovered in Vienna in 1838, but, as Gardiner says, the slow horn and flute cadenzas are pure Schumann "and for a moment it seems a new world of magical possibility is opened up".

Gardiner's approach to Schumann's Symphony no 3, the "Rhenish", also brings out the connections between the symphony and Schumann's many songs, even more so than in the First Symphony. Given the central position of song in Schumann's ouevre, his sensitivity to poetry and visual images and his very personal identification with the Rhine, it is wise not to underestimate the song aspects of this symphony.  Indeed, one could suggest that Schumann's Third inhabits a place from which we can consider his search for new forms of music theatre, evolving from oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri  (Op 59, 1843) (please read more here) to Genoveva (1848)  (read more here)  an opera that is more Weber than Wagner.  Is Schumann 3 song in symphonic form ? John  Daverio, the most intuitive of Schumann scholars, felt that text was integral to the music far more deeply than in the sense of word-painting. Schumann liked the shape of syntax, the rhythms of declamation. Schumann's music drama is only "difficult" if we expect it to evolve like Wagner, with conventional narrative. Instead, it's closer to abstract, conceptual art. In this performance, Gardiner and the LSO illuminated the colours, evoking the magic of the worlds of Weber, Mendelssohn and Singspiel tradition.  Lightness of touch, and freedom, are thus integral to interpretation.

Schumann's Symphony no 3 was inspired by an interlude of great happiness, when Robert and Clara took a holiday along the Rhine, both of them acutely aware of its symbolism and place in  Schumann's songs, such as "Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter" from Liederkreis op 24, and the verse, from Heine :
"Freundlich grüssend und verheißend
Lockt hinab des Stromes Pracht;
Doch ich kenn’ ihn, oben gleißend,
Birgt sein Innres Tod und Nacht.!"

In a sense Schumann's third symphony is almost autobiographical, as if the composer were looking back at the high points in his career.  Gardiner and the LSO articulated the sparkling figures in the opening movement so they flowed, like a river, sunny but with darker undercurrents hinted at in the strong chords in the second theme, and the quieter passages in its wake. This coloured the second movement, suggesting the scherzo qualities behind the surface. There are echoes of folk dance, evoking the vigour of peasant life, but Schumann doesn't tarry. Bassoons, horns and trumpets called forth, the movement, ending on an elusive note.  The movement marked "Nicht schnell" was gracefully poised: as an intermezzo it connects the happiness of the Lebhaft  movement with what is to come. The solemn pace of the fourth movement marked "Feierlich" may describe a ceremony the Schumanns witnessed in Cologne Cathedral, but its musical antecedents can be traced to other sources, such as the song "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" from Dichterliebe.  The size of the cathedral, and the reverberations within it are suggested by the figures (trombones, trumpets, bassoons) which stretch out as if filling vast spaces. With Gardiner's clear textures the motif suggesting a cathedral organ was very distinct.  Whateverv the movement may or may not mean, the muffled horns and brass fanfares evoke a power that is very far from the insouciant quasi-folk tunes that have gone before. Yet Schumann concludes not with gloom but with a reprise of the sunny Lebhaft, the emphatic chords even stronger than before, this time lit up by a glorious fanfare, the brass shining above the strings below. The very image of the Rhine surging past towering mountains. Since we now know of Schumann's suicide attempt, this adds depth to our response.

Gardiner and the LSO make further connections by pairing Schumann's Third with his Overture to Manfred. In Byron's poem, Manfred is doomed, "half dust, half deity" driven mad by some unknown guilt, possibly incest, which in Byron's case may have been true. To German readers, there would have been echoes of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.  Schumann's emotional extremes had been apparent at an early age, and his sister had committed suicide in her youth. Mendelssohn, whom Schumann revered, had died in 1847 while still in his prime. The Overture begins with majestic upward chords, rising like mountains, quintessential Early Romantic symbols on many levels, undercut by plaintive woodwinds and strings. As Gardiner points out, "the dark key E flat minor is particularly challenging for strings, yet the sense of strain this creates adds to the intensity".  Schumann's orchestration is so well defined that, in the eleven minutes of the Overture alone, he captures surging turmoil and psychic upheaval.

Saturday 25 January 2020

For the Chinese New Year, but subdued

Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, the Spring Festival. To many that means food, decorations, and symbols of good fortune, like pots of kumquat and plum blossom.  All of which mean hope and renewal : a start and also a looking back on fundamental values, like family. Family means continuity, community, heritage. People will travel thousands of miles to see their family . In modern times, and not just in China, the New Year exodus from the cities where people work back to their parents and hometowns represents something infinitely deeper than a holiday.  There's a video (from Singapore) which shows a mother,  making preparation all on her own. Son is a big city big shot, he doesn't do folksy stuff. Then suddenly, he appears at the door, and the old woman bursts into tears of joy, and so do most of us who watch it. That says more about New Year than all the fancy trappings ! This year for obvious reasons the mood is subdued. This past year has seen so much trauma and maybe worst the corrosion of heritage and basic values. All the more we should remember what New Year can really mean.

There are lots of Spring and New Year songs, but I've chosen this one, 雨夜花 the Torment of the flower by Deng Yuxian (鄧雨賢) (1906-1944). It's relevant on many different levels this year, because Deng's ancestors were scholar gentry in China, settling in Taiwan late in the Qing period, generations before Taiwan was annexed by Japan after the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895.  When the Japanese took over they enforced the "Japanization" of Taiwan, suppressing traditional customs and promoting a Japanese version of modernization. After 1945, millions of mainland Chinese followed Chiang Kaishek to Taiwan, further obliterating Taiwanese identity, and installing an oppressive regime of their own. Thus Deng occupies a fairly unique place in Chinese and Taiwanese history.  His story helps us understand. (Link to his bio here) Deng was classically trained and worked for music studios, but eventually quit public life and became a humble schoolteacher. Torment of the flower is based on a traditional Taiwan folk song, which, during the the Japanese period, was adapted to fit in with Japanese occupation values.  Deng can't have been pleased. He died in 1944 of a heart condition.  There's nothing militaristic about this song : it’s  beautiful and nostalgic, it transcends place and time.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Magic Bagpipes ! Jaromír Weinberger : Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer

From Saturday 25th January on Operavision, "the last operetta of the Weimar Era", Jaromír Weinberger's Spring Storm (Frühlingsstürme) commissioned for Berlin’s Admiralspalast, which premiered a few days before January 30th 1933, when Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, thereby ending the creative flourish that marked the early years of the 20th century.  To prepare I've been revisting Weinberger's Švanda dudák a Czech libretto by Miloš Kareš, which premiered in Prague in 1927 followed by the German premiere in Breslau in 1928, in a translation by Max Brod.  Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer was a smash hit, particularly in German speaking countries.  Boosey & Hawkes describes it thus: "The strikingly folksy and yet anything but old-fashioned opera that makes enormous demands on the performers. It is not a “comic opera” for light voices and a mere municipal theater orchestra. The great  conductors of the time, such as Erich Kleiber and Clemens Krauss, stood on the rostrum. It is significant that Weinberger was particularly acclaimed by the German public of the Weimar Republic, that is to say, in a heady phase between the stiff imperial era and the culturally narrow-minded, dull “Third Reich.

Notice, "It is not a comic opera".  Schwanda, who plays the dudelsack (Bohemian bagpipes)  and Dorota are newlyweds happy in their innocence. One day a stranger hides in the house while Schwanda is out at work. The robber is Babinsky, but like so many crooks he has the gift of the gab. He tells Schwanda about glamorous places and adventures and persuades Schwanda to come away with him right away. They head to the palace so Schwanda can play for the Queen to cheer her up. What he doesn't know is that the reason the Queen's heart is as cold as ice is that she sold her soul to a strange Magician. For a moment he awakes her feelings and everyone breaks into a merry polka. But the Queen can't actually love without needing to possess. Sign of a psychopath ! When she hears that Schwanda's married, she condemns him to death. He's saved at the last moment by Babinsky (who wants a way to grab the Queen's diamonds). Dorota's jealous, so Schwanda says he'll go to hell if he's ever kissed the Queen. But he did, when enchanted,  and goes to hell. The Magician knows the source of the magic : the powers of the Dudelsack, and its music. (Bohemian bagpipes have strong cultural symbolism.) In Hell, the Devil challenges Schwanda and Babinsky to a card game -another ancient meme that runs through Central and Eastern European tradition. Wonderfully demonic music. The Devil assumes he'll win, as usual, but Babinsky beats him by being an even bigger conman. Schwanda's freed, returning to Dorota with his Dudelsack, while Babinsky carries on scamming.

Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer is still in the repertoire and gets done fairly frequently. There was a good production at the Semperoper, Dresden in 2016 (Please read more about that HERE). Weinberg was a close associate of Max Reger, which is why he's an adopted Dresden  favourite.  There are also several good reecordings. I like the 1948 one conducted by Winfried Zillig in Frankfurt in 1948. Performance wise it's more rough and ready than the later Hans Wallberg, though Wallberg has a glamour cast of  big name stars - Lucia Popp, Siegfried Jerusalem, Hermann Prey etc. But  the livelier approach of Zillig seems to suit the work better. This isn't necessarily a vehicle for elegant operatic display, it's too earthy and too pointedly pungent.  I love this opera so much. A few years back I had one of those endless nightmares where you go round in circles but can't escape. Suddenly, Schwanda to the rescue ! His music and cheerful nature got me back on track right away !

Things to come

 The Future, visualized in1902

Monday 20 January 2020

Voices of 1945 - Salonen, Vaughan Williams, Strauss and Stravinsky

Voices of 1945 at the Royal Festival Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra in Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony no 6 (here in the 1950 revision), Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto in D and Igor Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements. This continues Salonen's long series of programmes that make connections between composers and their responses to the changes in the world around them. This approach is especially important now that music is presented out of context on playlists and short clips.  Programmes like this creates juxtapositions that enhance depths of understanding, even of well known repertoire.  The underlying theme of this concert was war : all three composers reflecting on the impact of war, each in their own different way.

Vaughan Williams would not be drawn on what his Symphony no 6 might be "about", but that in itself intensifies what it might mean. Of his third symphony, he  explicitly stated that it was "wartime music", inspired by his experiences as a stretcher bearer in France. "It’s not really lambkins frisking at all, as most people take for granted". Thus the sixth has no cosy title to throw the unwary off track. The onus is on the listener to listen sensitively, and understand the piece from within. To hear music as no more than sound is to deny emotion and humanity. Salonen conducted the introduction so the brass seemed to scream in a communal wail of anguish. The quieter "pastoral" themes on strings, woodwinds and harps felt haunted, swept away in the tumult.  In the second movement tension built up steadily, the three note ostinato figure at first muffled, the cor anglais offering a moment of contrast before the relentless fusillade of brass and percussion. This  gives context to the saxophone solo in the scherzo, enhancing its strange, alien nature. Its jazziness is seductive, yet it suggests disorder, the breaking-up of safe structural certainties. The bass clarinet served as lament.  The final movement, with its ambiguous pianissimo, suggests not peace, but perhaps a numbness so great that even music cannot fully express. Unlike thethird symphony, there's no room even for wordless voice. Muted flutes in unison, rather than the fanfare of brass with which the symphony began.

Richard Strauss's  Oboe Concerto in D heard here in the 1945 version rather than Strauss's own revision from 1948, with soloist Tom Blomfield, Principal oboe of the Philharmonia. With his typical self-deprecating humour, Strauss dismissed it as "workshop excercises written to prevent the right wrist, freed from the drudgery of wielding the baton from going to sleep, permanently". Perhaps, but like Vaughan Williams, Strauss, who knew all too well about the destruction of German culture, (remember Metamorphosen) didn't want to be drawn into discussion, especially at a time when his homeland was under military occupation.  In any case, the solo part requires tour de force virtuosity, not only in terms of technique but in expressiveness. The first movement is exquisite, its elegance near filigree, an evocation of a more civilized, idealized past.  The timbre of the oboe matters, too : darker than a clarinet, richer yet more bittersweet.  In the final movement, D minor not major, suggests a subtle shift of mood, swiftly swept away by the blazing allegro at the conclusion.

Salonen's long series of Stravinsky concerts with the Philharmoniaa were outstanding. When Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements premiered in 1946 the composer wrote "Each episode is linked in my mind with a concrete impression of war.....the first movement inspired by a war film, a documentary of scorched-earth tactics in China", the second movement by the images of peasants "scratching and digging in their field" and the third "A musical reaction to newsreels I had seen of goose-stepping soldiers. The square march beat, the brass-band instrumentation, the grotesque crescendo in the tuba - all of these are related to those repellent pictures".

Even if he was later quoted (by Robert Craft) denying this, the structure of the symphony reflects turbulence and discord. The Symphony in Three Movements  operates like a kaleidoscope, of multiple aural images, fragmentizing and re-surfacing in new combinations. It's like collage, as used in the cinema where different frames are put together to create impressionistic density, images proliferating in layers and patterns. Stravinsky would have been well aware of Sergei Eisenstein. Hence the many quotes from other works, notably"primitivism" of the Rite of Spring, ritual now a force for sacrifice but not necessarily regrowth, and music planned for use in the film of Franz Werfel's novel The Song of Bernadette  whose visions give her faith, and from Beethoven's Symphony no 3, "Eroica". none of which would have been incorporated without purpose.  The inner movement is brief respite before savage, angular ostinato figues return.  One might, perhaps,  read into the piece insights into Stravinsky's predicament, looking back on his past and anxiously ahead, but the energy of this performance was such that it wholly convinced on its own terms.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Massive Beethoven concert from 1808 - Wiener Philharmonker, Philippe Jordan

"Das Konzert ist ein Höhepunkt der Feierlichkeiten zum 250. Jahrestag der Geburt des Komponisten." Philippe Jordan and the Wiener Symphoniker recreate an all Beethoven programme from 22nd December 1808 - 212 minutes - on arte.tv. This is the programme :

Symphonie Nr. 6 F-Dur op. 68 "Pastorale"
"Ah perfido!", Szene und Arie für Sopran mit Orchester op. 65
Messe C-Dur op. 86, II. Gloria (Qui tollis – Quoniam)
Konzert für Klavier und Orchester Nr. 4 G-Dur op. 58
Symphonie Nr. 5 c-moll op. 67
Messe C-Dur op. 86, IV. Sanctus (Benedictus – Osanna)
Fantasie für Klavier op. 77
Fantasie für Klavier, Chor und Orchester c-moll op. 80 "Chorfantasie"

There seeems to be quite a vogue for huge concerts like these now, maybe to counteract the attention deficit of modern listening (which applies to many things, not only music)

Thursday 16 January 2020

Heras-Casado - Manuel de Falla El Sombrero des Tres Picos, Granada

Manuel de Falla The Three Cornered Hat (El Sombrero des Tres Pucos) with Pablo Heras-Casado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra streamed HERE. Pablo Heras-Casado came up through the ranks of the Abbado group of orchestras, of which the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is an integral part, and was mentored by Pierre Boulez. There's a video of  Boulez and the Lucerne Festival Academy with a very young Heras-Casado, still round with puppy fat.  Soon, Heras-Casado became joint director of the Academy beside Boulez. Since then, he's become a big-time international name, conducting everywhere at the highest levels. Yet Granada, his hometown, remains part of his identity. He headed for some years the Granada Festival of Music and Dance at which this performance was filmed in July 2019 in the grounds of the palace of Charles V in Alhambra.
Flamenco, and indeed most dance, depends on precision, energy and discipline, well suited to the very high standards of the elite Mahler Chamber Orchestra.  With Heras-Casado, this provides a foundation for a performance of extraordinary power, where the playing alone is so vivid that the music "speaks" without the need for dancers or staging, other than the backdrop of  the palace coutyard itself and the abstract video projections in the background, designed to reflect the architecture. Listen to the detail in this performance : castanets, trumpets, piccolos, clapping, their purpose sharply defined amid the passionate, swirling textures. As in Flamenco, single gestures matter, where directions can switch on sudden pivot points.  Heras-Casado reminds us that de Falla was a twentieth century composer, building on earlier traditions. He was a contemporary and friend of Stravinsky, and died as recently as 1946. The Three Cornered Hat was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev and choreographed by Leonid Massine in 1919, in co-operation wth de Falla and authentic Spansh dancers.  It's relatively late for a Ballets Russe production, and the flavour of the 1920's is in evidence.  It predates Ravel's Boléro by 10 years.

This wonderfully vivid performance, with  Carmen Romeu as soloist, follows on from Heras-Casado's recent recording, also with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, of El Sombreo des Picos and El amor brujo on Harmonia Mundi, which was one of my favourites of 2019. I can listen to it again and again and still feel refreshed by its spotaniety and verve.  When it came out some said it was "too fast" and not "romantic" enough. Too bad !  This music isn't mean to be soft-focussed.  its a pity that listeners these days seem to approach music with a laundry list of preconceived assumptions rather than listening to what a composer might mean, or what a good performer can bring out in the music. It's the repertoire that counts !

Saturday 11 January 2020

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla - Raminta Šerkšnytė, Deutsche Grammophon

From Deutsche Grammophon, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica. In the four years since her appointment as Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra  was announced, Gražinytė-Tyla has established a significant presence. She  understands the long standing CBSO ethos of adventurous programming.  While many conductors would play safe with recordings of easily-marketable repertoire, Gražinytė-Tyla chooses repertoire which stretches boundaries.  In 2018, she led the CBSO in an in-depth immersion into the music of Mieczysław Weinberg, which resulted in one of the finest ever recordings of Weinberg's Symphony no 21, the "Kaddish" together with Weinberg specialists Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica.  Please read my review of that here.   

In this new recording, she presents the Lithuanian composer Raminta Šerkšnytė. Though this recording may not have immediate mass market appeal, it is so unusual, so beautiful and so moving that it could, long term, prove to be a milestone in bringing the riches of Lithuanian and Baltic music to a wider audience.

The music of the Baltic region evolves from ancient traditions absorbed into the culture of the early Christian era, encouraging vocal and communal music-making. When Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were incorporated into the Soviet Union, regional identities were suppressed, and music became a covert force against the regime. It's notable how music with a spiritual element survived repression :  Ustvolskaya and Giubaldina, Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, Osvaldus Balaskauskas, Pēteris Vasks, Lutosławski, Miloslav Kabeláč and many others. Hence the Singing Revolution of 1987 and mass non-violent protest which ultimately led to independence. This spiritual element also connects to a sense of communion with nature and the environment. The bonus DVD that comes with this recording, includes a performance conducted by Gražinytė-Tyla of works by Bronius Kutavičius (b. 1932) inspired by ancient polytheistic belief and music in what is now Lithuania. Definitely worth listening to, as it sets context for the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė. Indeed, the whole video is worth watching for its insights into Gražinytė-Tyla's values and background.

I want my music to compose a symphony from the roaring of waves, from the mysterious langauage of hundred-year woods, from the twinkling of stars, from our folksongs and from my boundless longing" wrote Mikalojus Čiurlionis (1875-1911) the Lithuanian composer, poet and painter. Šerkšnytė's Midsummer Song (2009) addresses the summer solstice,  the longest day and shortest night in the calendar, which has ritual significance in many cultures, as it marks the passage of seasons and of time itself.  Thus the "gossamer melodies alternating between major and minor , evolving step by step into a wealth of colours and forms", as Verena Mogel notes, "....a multi-layered, finely structured fabric in which the overlapping and contrasting layers of strings never lose their coherence.... a consistent, dramatic arch unfolds from beginning to end, a constant alternation of tension and relaxation, the singing of isolated voices and dense textures". The effect is mystical, as if the music were tapping into some deep source of earth-magic. Brief figures might represent specifics, like birds, or wind,  but this is an inner landscape of the soul : much deeper than tone poem.   Listening to this can clean away the superficial clutter of noise that surrounds us. For me, it is an  immensely rewarding and uplifting experience.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Raminta Šerkšnytė - photo Modestas Ezerkskis
Šerkšnytė's De profundis (1989) takes its cue not so much from  Psalm 130 but from the storms and turbulence of youth, perhaps a necessary rite of passage before the coming of wisdom. Hence the shifting tensions, formed by "fretful, 18 note motifs interspersed with rests which hover above downward spiralling glissandi in contrast with almost motionless chord progressions in which dissonances resolve again and again into harmonic clarity".  This was the piece which earned Šerkšnytė her bachelors degree, but it is by no means a "student" work.

Based on the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Šerkšnytė's
Songs of Love and Death (2007) is structured along the lines of an Indian raga, evoking emotional states of mind as much as the themes of day, evening, night and dawn in the text.  In the first movement, "Diena, Vakararas" (day, evening)  textures hover creating an impressionistic palette of delicate colour, highlighted by exotic-sounding percussion and woodwinds.  A free-flowing sense of calm prevails, from which the soloists’ voices arise, their lines like incantation, gradually building up to form a chorale as intricate as tracery.  In "Naktis" (Night) a solo violin sings, elaborating on the themes of the previous movement. The choir picks up the themes, their lines hushed, undulating and diffuse, providing a backdrop to the two pairs of soloists (Lina Dambrauskaitė, Justina Gringyte, Tomas Pavilionis and Nerijus Masevičius) who sing of love and longing. The brief orchestral interlude marks a transition.  The woodwinds create fluttering bird-like figures, which illustrate the references in the text to a dawn chorus followed by the sudden flight of birds. "Rytus. Amzinasis rytas (Morning. Eternal morning) marks not just a new day but a leap into an altogether new level of transcendence.  The soloists sing, united in ensemble and as individuals interacting, the choir intoning behind them. As the emotional flight takes off, the voices gradually recede into space, the orchestra returning to reverent serenity. Giedré Slekytė conducts the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Vilnius Municipal Choir (Jauna Muzika).

Saturday 4 January 2020

Sumptuous yet witty - Offenbach La belle Hélène

"À l'Opéra de Lausanne, l'extravagant Michel Fau s'empare du plus populaire des opéras-bouffes de Jacques Offenbach dans une mise en scène très attendue, chaussant pour l'occasion les sandales du roi Ménélas". Gloriously sumptuous yet also witty - Offenbach La belle Hélène in a new production by Michel Fau now available for a short period on arte.tv.This   is opéra-bouffe as it should be done - with wit, extravagant and idiomatic verve. As one would expect from Michel Fay, who is unique - not only an actor, but one with extraordinary musical affinities, who can bring out the music in spoken text, so it picks up on the musical logic - not Spechstimme, but declamation that accenntuates the musical line. When he narrates - such as in the recent F X Roth Berlioz Lélio, (please read more here), he makes the text fit so well with the orchestra and singers that it's hard to go back to listening to non-text or non-idomatic performance.  Fau is also a theatre historian, extremely well infomed about the performance style and ideologies in French music and theatre.  This production, lit in gold and jewel tones is audaciously indulgent, and the performances are vivid, too.  Do not miss this - it's fabulous, in every way ! (cast list and credits in the link).