Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a preview of Against the Grain’s upcoming show Death and Desire. It’s a staged mash up of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi: Chant d’amour et de mort; a settong of texts, rather weird ones at that, by the composer. As director Joel Ivany said, mixing Messiaen and Schubert might seem “a bit bizarre” but these two texts seem to work together remarkably well and the juxtaposition seems almost inspired. I’m glad too that the original intention of performing the two pieces back-to-back has been replaced by a mash up. Today we got to see and hear the first half of the show.
The Messiaen is an interesting piece and not like any other piece by the composer that I’ve heard. The early parts of the cycle have quite a simple sustained vocal line but the piano part is very complex and quite penetrative. From L’escalier redit on the vocal line becomes equally fierce and Doundou Tchil has a kind of driving pagan quality that reminds me more than anything of the Rite of Spring. It’s very, very different from, say Quattuor pour le fin du temps and the contrast with the metrical and civilized Schubert is oddly compelling. There’s certainly death here and desire but maybe not much consummation though I guess this was just the first half!
The staging certainly suggests desire and seduction with Krisztina Szabó sort of stalking her rather more genial prey, Stephen Hegedus. Her performance is of extraordinary intensity. If you’ve seen the COC’s Erwartung you know just what to expect. Hegedus makes a perfect foil with a stylish performance of the Schubert that seems to counterpoise a a gentler version of nature and love to the rawness of the Messiaen. One can’t praise Topher Mokrzewski’s piano playing too highly either. It’s not just that the Messiaen is completely insane, it’s that he has to switch gears all the time which he does with aplomb.
I’m really quite stoked to see the whole show which plays from June 2nd to 5th in the intimate space of the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery. Details and tickets can be found at www.againstthegraintheatre.com.