I got hold of the recent Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ largely because I wanted to take a look at the Super Audio CD format. On that subject my thoughts are here. But it was also a chance to listen to a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with. I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful music; lyrical rather than dramatic, except perhaps in the early sections where Herod is having a hissy fit. I can see why it’s not done very often though. It calls for seven soloists plus chorus and a big orchestra.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s second Mozart/daPonte for Salzburg was Don Giovanni which premiered in 2014. There are some similarities with his Così fan tutte. He uses a symmetrical unit set again and shows a fondness for creating symmetrical tableaux vivants but there the similarities pretty much end. I could find a consistent, believable set of humans in Così but not so much in Don Giovanni. The problem is really the man himself. Bechtolf, in his notes, seems to be arguing that Don Giovanni can make no sense in an age of pervasive accessibility and exposure to all things sexual. Da Ponte’s Don requires a climate of sexual repression for his essence; to Bechtolf a kind of Dionysian force (he cites Kierkegaard), to make any sense as a human. I think I get that but then, I think, the challenge becomes to create a Don Giovanni who does make sense to a 21st century audience as, in their different ways, do Guth and Tcherniakov. Bechtolf seems to treat the character not so much as a human rather than as a kind of energy focus who exists by igniting aspects of the other characters; whether that’s lust or jealousy or hatred. He caps off this idea at the end by having Don Giovanni reappear during the final ensemble as a kind of mischievous presence still chasing anything in a skirt, even if it’s, perhaps, from another world. It’s an idea that I could not really buy into.
Sir Andrew Davis is in town conducting his own orchestration of Handel’s Messiah. In the modern world this is probably as close as it gets to Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield Choral Society. He conducts the TSO with brass and woodwinds that Handel never saw and lots of percussion including snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourines and marimba. He also has the not inconsiderable heft of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.