The more I see of Tobias Kratzer’s work the more impressed I get. Here we look at his 2019 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Bayreuth. It’s the kind of production that traditionalists get off on hating and there were boos at curtain call though they were absolutely drowned out by a storm of applause and stomping. Personally, I found it insightful, at times very funny, and deeply, deeply moving.
If one is a young Norwegian singer or collaborative pianist Greig’s songs offer a particular challenge. It’s music that one grows up with and the canonical recordings will be familiar. It’s a particular challenge too because, in some ways, Grieg’s approach to song is very modern. In particular, his approach to the piano part is quite different from classical German lieder. The piano rarely accompanies the singer. Its role is independent and often seems primary. Finding an approach that works then for both singer and pianist is non-trivial. Certainly treating the works as “vocal showpieces” won’t work as it would completely unbalance the music.
My main reason for getting my hands on a new CD of mainly orchestral music by Sibelius featuring the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner was to listen to the couple of tracks that feature soprano Lise Davidsen. I first saw her with the TSO in 2019 and I thought she was great.
The most substantial piece is Luonnotar which is drawn from the Kalevala and tells the often told story of the universe being created from an egg. This is big orchestra Sibelius ad Gardner is not afraid to go to the extremes in the contrasts of dark and light and, of curse, volume. Davidsen sings with great beauty and no sign at all of stress all through her range, even over a sometimes very loud orchestra. It’s all super smooth and really impressive.
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.