The TSO’s opening concert of the season at Roy Thomson Hall was quite boldly conceived. Basically hand the evening over to the powerhouse duo of soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and violinist/conductor John Storgårds and see what they come up with. It was an excitingly eclectic programme which produced some great performances but a sadly disappointing turn out.
I suppose it’s a bit odd to go out to a symphony concert on a cold night out of interest in one twenty minute piece on the program but that’s what I did last night. The item of interest was Henri Dutilleux’ Correspondances and the attraction was that the soloist was Barbara Hannigan. It’s an unusual piece. The five texts include, conventionally enough, three poems; two by Rilke and one by Prithwindra Mukherjee. The two longer texts are letters; one from Solzhenitsyn to the Rostropoviches and one from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother. The music is atmospheric and covers a wide range of moods from ecstatic to despairing. It’s heavy on percussion and makes considerable demands on the vocal soloist. Parts of it lie very high and it really needs the exquisite attention to each syllable of the text that is Hannigan’s trademark. Little shifts in the vowels, the occasional drop into something approaching Sprechstimme and so on. I thought the TSO and Peter Oundjian were really quite impressive here too. The piece got the clarity and transparency it needs. That said, it’s one of those pieces that few people, I think, will fully appreciate on one hearing. Fortunately there is a very good recording of Hannigan singing it with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The piece was bookended by Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. The Sibelius was extremely well played with some lovely playing in particular from the cor anglais. The Berlioz isn’t a piece I much care for and both of us were a bit under the weather so we skipped out after the Dutilleux. If you missed last night’s performance it’s on again tonight at 8pm.
Photo credit: Malcolm Cook.