The Latvian Radio Choir tend to show up once a year as part of Soundstreams’ concert series. Last night was the first time I have managed to go. It was at Metropolitan United Church and I was up in the balcony. It’s an awesome view and the sound is great but it’s hot! I guess that’s where they put the sinners.
Croatian bass Goran Jurić is currently making his North American debut as Sarastro in the COC’s Magic Flute. Today he gave a lunchtime recital with Anne Larlee in the RBA. It was an all Russian programme; Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Sviridov. I don’t want to do a blow by blow review because I don’t know the rep well enough and it seems a bit pointless. Instead let’s talk about Jurić as an artist, as shown by his performance here (and not surprisingly as Sarastro). He’s a genuine bass, no messing. The low notes are all there and the timbre is rich and dark when he wants it to be. But he’s also extremely lyrical. He can lighten up without ever stopping sounding like a bass. It’s a most pleasant combination. He’s also a terrific storyteller. This seems like an odd thing to say about a recital where not a word was spoken and all the songs were in a language I scarcely understand at all, yet I felt he was communicating the essence of the text with great clarity as a good lieder singer must. Anne was great as an accompanist too. There was quite a lot of range in the piano parts from quite delicate and playful in some of the Sviridov to cranking the pedals up to 11 in some of the Rachmaninov. A very good way to spend one’s lunch break.
Besides, it was great to see Anne Larlee back at the Four Seasons Centre and to discover a young bass who I want to hear a lot more of. Fortunately he’s back next season as Osmin in Entführung.
Photo credit: Karen E. Reeves
Hearing Anita Rachvelishvili sing Carmen on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre, it was obvious that she had a huge voice with really interesting colours. The full scope only became apparent to me hearing her in recital in the RBA today. It’s an extraordinary instrument that can go from a very delicate pianissimo to very loud indeed without any obvious change in quality. There’s no steeliness or squalliness as the volume ramps up. Just the same colours and rich tone. A blow by blow account of a concert that included music in Georgian by Tabidze, Russian by Rachmaninov, French by Fauré and Spanish by de Falla seems superfluous. There was delicacy. There was drama. There was humour. There was playfulness. All in less than an hour. And to cap it off there were encores; Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson et Delilah and, perhaps inevitably, the Seguidilla from Carmen. Stephen Hargreaves was at the piano. One wonders if he actually lives at the hall. He covered a wide range of material from the delicate to the impressively percussive with his customary skill.
Photo credit: Lara Hintelmann
So, Sondra made a live broadcast for 96.3 FM at lunchtime today. It was one of those media things where the audience was aggressively stage managed by the floor staff but otherwise quite enjoyable. Also there was lunch which was a definite plus. What was a bit annoying was the overall vibe of “fitting opera into the programming for old folks”. Way to build a new audience there!
The performance was varied and interesting with Sondra on good form and the ever reliable Rachel Andrist on piano. There was no printed progrmme or lyric sheets so I’m going from my hastily scribbled notes but we got some Rachmaninov songs, which suited Sondra really well plus arias from Trovatore, Norma, Tosca and Andrea Chenier plus a Verdi song, Copland’s Simple Gifts and I could have danced all night. Nothing if not varied! It’s interesting how dropping from big opera rep to something like the Copland can be astonishingly effective. Simplicity and lack of artifice has it’s charms. And, yes, I want to hear her Norma and, if rumour is half way correct, probably will in the not too distant future.
Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight is a very strange one act opera and it isn’t often performed. A production by as cerebral a creative team as Vladimir Jurowski and Annabel Arden looks like a very promising idea so I was very intrigued to see what they made of it in this 2004 Glyndebourne recording.
This work lasts only a little over an hour and is split into three scenes which scarcely relate to each other. In Scene 1 a young knight laments that he can’t keep up his social position on his meagre allowance. A Jewish moneylender refuses to extend further credit but suggests that he can provide the knight with poison if he wants to do his old man in. The knight refuses. Act 2 consists of a monologue in which the father, the Miserly Knight of the title, rhapsodizes over his six chests of gold in a fairly overtly sexual way for twenty five minutes. In Scene 3 the Duke orders the father to make an appropriate allowance to his son. The father refuses ultimately claiming, ironically, that his son is trying to poison him. The son rushes in and denounces his father. They have a row and the father drops dead. End of story. All this takes place to an incredibly complex score full of leitmotivs. In a real sense the orchestra is the main character, functioning as Chorus in the original Greek sense. How to bring some sense of the dramatic to this is no mean problem. Arden’s solution is to embody Greed in the form of an aerialist who is present whenever the father is present. This seems like a great idea and on the odd occasion the video director lets the DVD audience see the interaction between Greed and the father it seems to work. Unfortunately the video director, Franceska Kemp, is even more wedded than most of her ilk to superfluous close-ups and so most of Arden’s intelligent work is lost on us.
Musically this is pretty impressive. The music is not typical Rachmaninov. There are no big tunes and it looks forward to the musical language of early Schoenberg or Bartok as much as it looks back to Wagner and Tchaikovsky. In other words it’s an uncompromising early 20th century score. Jurowski gets this and conjures up superbly detailed and incisive playing playing from the London Philharmonic. He’s backed up by an excellent cast of singing actors. The star, clearly, is Sergei Leiferkus as the father. He manages a part that is usually cast for a bass but goes uncomfortably high for most basses. He can sing the music and he brings an absolutely revolting quality to his quasi sexual monologue about money and power. He’s amazing. The rest of the cast are more than adequate. I particularly liked Albert Schagidullin’s powerful baritone as the Duke. Richard Berkeley-Steele, Maxim Mikhailov and Vyacheslav Voynarovsky are solid as the young knight, the servant and the moneylender. Matilda Leyser is the aerialist portraying Greed. What little we see of her is impressive but I really would like to see much more.
Video direction aside this is pretty impressive as a DVD package. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is superb (LPCM stereo also available). The picture is also excellent. There are French, German, English, Italian and Spanish subtitles. The extras on the disk include very useful interviews with Jurowski, Arden and Leiferkus as well as a quick look at the Gianni Schicchi with which it was paired at Glyndebourne. The documentation also includes a couple of essays that are worth reading. There’s also a Blu-ray release that includes both The Miserly Knight and Gianni Schicchi.
This is the only currently available video recording of The Miserly Knight so I think it’s worth a look despite the dreadful video direction. If that had been done properly I think this would likely have been really impressive.