The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fischer/BBC NOW: Tribute for what debt Dada, Poulenc might have owed Stravinsky

This highly interesting, provocative program started with a new piece by Michael Berkeley, son of Lennox Berkeley, mourning the deaths of a young close family friend - sudden victim of freak cart-wheeling accident - and that of Richard Hickox.

A natural history unit of BBC off the coast of Alaska took recordings of humpbacked whales for what here was ‘Gabriel’s Lament’, lasting sixteen minutes. Broken antiphonal or responsorial choral singing breaks in upon music well organized, but clearly emphatic on creating a mood conducive to meditation or reflection. Aggregates of thirds are built into the texture and scale-wise fragments of often five notes winding up on tritone from starting pitch usually below. Elements of there being chords of different tonalities break in, more to the effect at least of being pan-diatonic nearly as often as chromatic.

The recorded whale calls come in succinctly timed, as do broken ostinati in winds, trumpets, etc. Moment or two of Elgarian writing lent this music an air of a distinct feeling of nostalgia as well. Fischer kept textures not absolutely light as possible, but clear and with also with proper necessary weight. He thus connected the different strands therein with a fine, never overbearing sense of line. He also ensured well a readily apparent exactitude to choral and solo entrances, to refreshing extent most desirable.

One could not be quite sure how this opening piece prepared one for the rest of the program here, but the Berkeley, half as long as each of the other two, lent the program perhaps a much needed air of sobriety before continuing on. Putting it in-between the Poulenc and Stravinsky works would’ve made the Poulenc the last light moment on the program. I perhaps had a uniquely uncanny sense that this program by BBC Nat’l of Wales at St. David’s in Cardiff seemed to comment upon what was so below par about the all Russian program Rattle conducted for the annual Waldbuhne within days of this. Each program included Rite of Spring.

There could’ve been nothing more midcult, conformist, completely devoid of meaning – the pairing from Berlin of the two Russian composers, with several Nutcracker excerpts thrown in, making sure nobody missed how thoroughly tired, decadent such an arrangement could be. Here, however, the inclusion of Poulenc’s complete Les Biches with chorus fit beautifully with Rite; it made perfect antidote to Waldbuhne of so recently - very humorously so.

Just one thing about Les Biches briefly mystifies me – the title above one movement – Rag-Mazurka – that I marked as ‘tarantella’ in my notes; listening more closely, hints of ragtime do indeed appear, along throughout with or encircling the debauchery that is Les Biches other dance steps, hints thereof.

Fischer, while maintaining a wonderful balance between running a tight ship and flexible beat, in comparison on disc with the more straight-laced Georges Pretre, put a finger on just about all the wit one can find in Les Biches. He did so deadpan, thus without underlining anything more than at a minimum. Brass, in particular lower brass, had all varieties of insolence and impudence to give, and then some, packed for them. They played it all as perfectly unaware to themselves that it is funny – as though instead on best behavior - but with all making sure it came across perfectly hilarious. There were certainly a few moments that were over-the-top, clearly intentional – such as a real bump tango for about ten seconds from fine brass concertato soon before the end of Rondeau. Moments of as though something hoary from the deep would occasionally break in on the bourgeosie glibness and complacency of it all - to siphon off before either final cadence or the next thing as though not having ever appeared at all, at least as in way apparent to any character onstage. One could almost be revisiting Angel Exterminador or L'Age d'Or of Bunuel.

No doubt still lurks in about all of us something of the primal savage or Neanderthal – with any of us stripped down too easily to our natural instincts - perhaps most of all among people in 1920’s Paris or, as an aside, in corrupted-turned-neocon parliamentary life in both Paris and Berlin anymore - of course hardly anything to mention having gone wrong with interwar Berlin.

Not quite all here is quite farce, what lyrical, pensive moments there are, but lurking beneath - not far behind - is also a clear sense of the mock-serious. The height of hilarity however with Les Biches, in context of even so much deft nuance, was when called for broadly caught as well, with brass, cacciatore horns ripping into gigue and chorus racing along with them in ‘la chasse’ mode. Fischer merrily lent both marche and gigue gratuitous swagger, in contrast with graceful step of other baroque dance forms, including the gentle musette of the Adagietto. High whinnying clarinets therein, to upset the balance, plus touches of calliope, Moulin Rouge and swing elsewhere (too) made up the sundae toppings, with helping of bad nuts (or of bad notes) on purpose thrown in.

Following the break was Rite of Spring. High register bassoon only held first note for four seconds; he did not seem to know there had started a contest, such as between Maazel’s New York and Rattle’s Berlin principals, as to who can hold it the longest. Fischer, several very minor slips aside, approached the opening music, so heavily scored for winds, in subtly detached manner, not to (seriously) clip anything. Fischer’s way of understanding woodwinds - how they work, and how this music for them works - was very obviously complete, and very insightfully infused things very well throughout this Rite. Sense of inner pulse thus far was close to exemplary. It seemed, even with Fischer’s use of the 1911 score, that clarity of execution was paramount in his mind - much to one’s amazement as well.

One could feel with Fischer percussion and all else being marked so precisely - clearly to indicate the stamp of feet around the medieval Russian hamlet, when one reached ‘Augurs of Young Girls.’ Hardly any enveloping of this at all was the case here, as you might find on, aesthetically, the classic Fricsay recording; such was the case here in order to preserve textures as dry, even approaching classical, as opposed to with Markevitch the force with which some of this music, its chords and rhythms can explode right in front of you. Animated triplet figuration for violins with very rapid tonguing in trumpets in Jeu de rapt was very brilliantly played. “Spring rounds”, with no bloat to it anywhere, with stamp of feet prominent below surface, was excellent, which along with “Rival tribes” to follow, ended with urgent pacing and alone on purpose a dragged postlude. Opening dotted half notes to melodic figure that goads the Procession of the Sage on sounded undercut. However, through propulsive start to Dance of the Earth, with mysterious, long held chord right before to the end of Part One, hardly any more could have been asked of this.

Introduction to Part 2 sounded plenty mysterious, but with perfect guarantee of simplicity for its purpose and design. Acrid sounding high clarinets seemed to depict some stench, as from toxin adrift above. One had overall sense of much damage and decay to the landscape in one’s midst, unlike with any Rite that (crudely) romanticizes this music. Horns and violins sang their lines toward end of ‘Circles’ very sensitively with a deep tristesse, and without gilding a thing. Diaphanous cover over depicting such sense of loss one got from Fricsay and then also from Metzmacher (with London SO in 2002) was somewhat cast aside - thus leaving a more sickly, wan impression of all landscape around, All this music's latent potency in preparing for what was to come was fully intact.

Fischer played the turns at the spinning off crests of Glorification de l’elue riskily a bit quick, but with precise rhythm. Not quite the most volcanic impression could be made this way, but one could not help but be thoroughly engaged with how even this went.. Marking of Invocation of the Ancestors was excellently spaced, with then Fischer making gradual crescendo of the stamp of feet to mid-ground or just slightly above it through Ritual Action of the Ancestors to make complete menace of what had started much earlier with ‘Augurs of Young Girls.’ For what had been a somewhat held back performance of Sacre du printemps thus far, Thierry Fischer sufficiently let loose so that ‘Danse sacrale’, though slightly rushed in a few spots, was anything but anticlimactic toward ballet’s conclusion - huge tutti therein making use of the full orchestra at full tilt. Fischer had no reason to hold back at this point and did not.

Fischer had his woodwinds practically shriek their cries at the start of ‘Danse sacrale’, absolutely on pitch, to harrowing effect. Triplet drum beats during closing pages of ‘Danse sacrale’, were instead of being hit as hard as possible for all they are worth, were clearly heard and restored to their proper rhythms (more barbaric then hearing much vague pounding resonance instead) - different from what often is the case.

For one piece as inspired by Diaghilev, one had the polite veneer, cover for sake of modern-day bourgeoisie comfort covering much even ogre-like savagery underneath. For the other one had such even primitivism, barbarity with the cover or veneer completely removed – interpreted, played here by Fischer and BBC NOW in such a way that would even in its own unique way eloquently speak to the vernacular of the time all this music was written. No better advocate could have been found than Thierry Fischer; both major works here are expected on disc soon from these forces.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters