The main event in last night’s programme at the TSO was the first act of Die Walküre in concert performance but it was preceded by The Ride of the Valkyries and, more substantially (if not louder) Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. It’s an interesting piece; post tonally expressionist with obvious homages to both Wagner and, especially, Mahler. Sir Andrew gave it one of the best introductions of the kind that I have heard; situating it not just in the Viennese musical lineage but also drawing helpful parallels with the visual arts; Klimt, Kokoschka etc. He also produced a reading of great clarity from the orchestra. It’s easy for a big piece of this kind to dissolve into a sort of aural mush and thereby give the “I don’t like this modern stuff” crowd ammunition that it’s just “noise”. Here the various strands, the references and even the musical jokes of the three movements were clearly delineated. Lovely stuff.
I’ve been taking another look at the Glyndebourne production of Berg’s Lulu that I first reviewed in April 2011. I think a reappraisal is in order. It’s a 1996 production directed by Graham Vick with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schäfer in the title role. When it first appeared it got rave reviews with Gramophone awards and the like.
Stravinsky LSO is a video release on the LSO’s own label of a 2015 concert at the Barbican featuring music by Berg, Webern, Ligeti and Stravinsky conducted by Simon Rattle. It opens with Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. Rattle produces a transparent, clearly articulated and structurally coherent account of this short work.
Today’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was really quite exceptional. Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer offered up a really well chosen program and executed it extremely well. Grieg’s Sechs Lieder is a lovely and varied setting of six German texts. Poulenc’s Banalités sets texts by Apollinaire in a way that reflects their essential weirdness. Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder are as good examples as one can get of how the Second Vienna School, despite its scary reputation, is really all about lush and approachable and the closing set of Frank Bridge songs showed that he was a heck of a lot more than Britten’s composition teacher.
Barbara Hannigan made her much anticipated Koerner Hall debut last night in an all German program accompanied by Reinbert de Leeuw. The first half of the program consisted of three sets; Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder Op. 2, Webern’s Fünf Lieder nach Gedicten von Richard Dehmel and Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder. All of these cycles were composed between 1899 and 1907 and there are many similarities. They are highly lyrical and essentially tonal and they mostly set poetry of a fairly pastoral nature. It would be churlish to complain about a performance of the utmost artistry (by both performers) of important works that likely no-one else would program in a major Toronto recital. That said, it was all quite lovely but it was a bit samey. Occasionally, especially in the Webern, some slightly different moods would emerge e.g in the third stanza of Ascension where it gets a bit more dramatic or in Heile Nacht, where there are echoes of Perrot Lunaire, but generally it was all rather in one place musically and emotionally.
The TSO’s Decades project has now reached the 1930s; very much home ground for me musically. Last night’s program explored different aspects of the music making of the period, including serialism, in a varied show of why this is not “music to be scared of”. It was also Sir Andrew Davis’ first appearance in his role of interim music director and supreme leader for life of the TSO.
Lineage, performed last night at the Heliconian Club, is the latest show from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang who brought usEvolving Symmetry in September. Lineage featured German music from Schubert to Rihm so much more in my sweet spot than the French theme of the earlier show. It was intriguingly constructed with three sets each of a pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte and a Rihm song setting. In between we got first Berg and then Webern, Schoenberg and Schubert. It sounds bizarrely eclectic but the contrast between quite experimental pieces and more obviously accessible fare was very satisfying. Also the sense that there is both a thematic unity and a tendency to experiment in a lot of German music regardless of period.
Wozzeck is a tricky piece for a director. There seem to be two possible approaches. One can find a character for Wozzeck himself that resonates with contemporary audiences and treat the piece more or less realistically. That’s the approach taken by both Bieito and Tcherniakov. Alternatively one can run with the overtly expressionist aspects of the piece and present it in a more abstract way as Peter Mussbach did. Andreas Homoki’s 2015 Zürich production takes the second route. The piece is presented as if the characters are puppets in a puppet theatre in a sort of ultra-grim version of Punch and Judy. It’s visually quite arresting and there are some very well composed scenes. To give just one example, immediately after Wozzeck has decapitated Marie the chorus appear as nightmarish Maries while Wozzeck sits nursing the severed head. That said, the concept does pall and maybe hasn’t really got the legs, absent any other real directorial ideas, to carry the piece for two hours.
The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
In 2010 Berg’s Wozzeck was produced in Russia for the first time since 1927. The production, at the Bolshoi, was directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Few people familiar with his work will be surprised to learn that Tcherniakov does not see Wozzeck as a down trodden and impoverished soldier. In fact he doesn’t see him as downtrodden and impoverished at all (unlike, say Calixto Bieito who transplants the action to a chemical plant but leaves the power relationships pretty much intact). Rather, Wozzeck is a sort of 21st century salaryman leading a life of modest prosperity but crushing boredom with Marie and their son in a city inhabited entirely by other such families. What’s missing is anything that resembles sensation or “life”.