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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

BBC Proms 2009 - Prom 65 - Jonathan Nott, GMJO

Prom 65. Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Jonathan Nott. Matthias Goerne. Royal Albert Hall, London. September 4, 2009.

This prom - Also Sparch on with Atmospheres - did not necessarily look the most enticing offering at this year’s festival, but then the program also included Schoenberg’s Five Pieces and Mahler Kindertotenlieder. Even so, if someone else had done this program, there could have even been a way to compromise the musical values of the Mahler and Schoenberg too, so as to fit in with all the rest. Such was not going to be the case this time – even for either the Strauss or Ligeti.

Jonathan Nott’s earlier showing at the 2009 Proms with Bamberg curiously came across as bland, in part that it opened with what is best to dismiss as cheap a composition by Jorg Widmann – nothing to make one forget Rihm’s Verwandlung, complete masterpiece next to this. Nott’s take on Bruckner Third (original version) one could only take as slightly off-center – next to the Mahler Fourth they made at once so mercurial and sinister at the 2006 proms - after definitive on the Rihm. Nott’s second Prom this year simply left no doubt as to how closely or not this career should be followed.

First came Ligeti’s Atmospheres. In revealing supple quality and interaction of how the sonorities are built in this piece, their delicacy and fragility as well, Nott opened up a view on not only the purely musical values of this work, but also its innate humanity with suggestive nuance. The reach to make incisive what count up to several most firece stretti, at or working with very close intervals, was fine. One passage had such ascend up from a major triad to intertwined close intervals to very high thin pitch cluster through which Nott sustained even, tensile line, holding it until all could gently waft off. The effect throughout ranged from mercurial to intimate, from spellbinding to deeply meditative. Color itself throughout was the designated formal element here, helping to define things far better than as just gilded shapeless mass. It is welcome knowledge too that Ligeti sued Stanley Kubrick for using his music, in lieu of copyright, without permission. Nott and his forces just settled for playing this music as just itself - very effectively this way.

Matthias Goerne joined Nott for the Mahler Kindertotenlieder. He sang this earlier this year with Ingo Metzmacher and DSO Berlin both at home and on Asia tour this past spring. Nott’s support, accompaniment, while being slightly idiosyncratic by comparison, played no second fiddle to that of Metzmacher. Nott phrased the opening song, starting a little slower than in Berlin – already slow there – in measured, slightly detached manner. One's attention got keenly drawn to how Nott gently probed out its most distinctive colors and internalized feelings of desolation and despair expressed within. Lower winds played obbligato to expressive French horn as, as much as feasible, with distinct voices, edges pointed out heterogeneously only so much as to be distinctive. Nothing sounded forced or things thrown off more than slightly close to off kilter. If there was strangeness to this, then it is in this music already - as pointing to the free floating linearity (in how sonorities are handled) in late Mahler and Schoenberg.

Great desolation and deep telling emotional resignation – on ‘ungluck geschah’ for instance - Goerne savored here; Nott gave him space for opening out freely most poetically, not to mention very long legato Goerne gave his lines without taking breaths. Nott made the short cadential phrases that open “Nun she ich wohl” speak in full with ending dissonances well pointed. Goerne gave “O augen”, contemplating the gaze from eyes of a father’s lost children, the special searching quality needed and emotional urgency to “das sieh der Strahl;” he also delineated contrast between “doch ist uns das abgeschlagen” and “was dir nur” for their tone of deep resignation and enlightening by false hope, respectively. Nott accompanied Goerne here with fine elasticity, contracting out and reining back overall line freely.

Goerne sank deeply low for addressing “furchterlein” with profound grief over loss for phrase ending during “Wenn dein Mutterlein.” English horn opened the song haltingly, before gently picking up pace for Goerne. In broadly reaching for crest of one line in the song's second verse, Goerne briefly opted for a more tubular means of vocal production that caused him, same passage, a little more trouble in Berlin. Breaking up last instance of “Der Tag ist schoen” in “Oft denk ich”, as again in Berlin, sounded affected, but he managed understating the case better at the Proms than he did there. Even through these two songs, in both locales, the emotion expressed was very genuine and vocal mastery of challenges always acceptable. Gently swaying accompaniment for the fourth song here was very supple.

Nott pointillistically accented string tremolo opening “In diesem Wetter” and brooding downward chromatic lines with fine detachment, enhancing their menace and foreboding. He thus separated out sonorities, without breaking any of the klangfarben unsettled sound world or atmosphere too much apart. Goerne broodingly expressed great woe. Nott’s easy support for Goerne’s easy reach over crest of his lines with gathering and receding swaying beneath in the strings distinguished the epilogue, enhanced by fine melos from principal flute, equally warm French horn as undulation in the strings started to slowly dissolving into the blue - into deep chord in winds and brass.

With fine-tuned baroque precision and incisive anticipation of terror,“Vorgefahle” (Premonitions) so distinctively started Five Orchestral Pieces, Schoenberg’s Opus 16. Nott uncannily established a prescient sense of cause-and-effect between different strands. Rigor in preparing this was complete, but all for effect of sounding entirely spontaneous. Nott even thereby encouraged high woodwinds to riskily push the envelope on some of their agitated downward arpeggios and other activity. Contrast in placing of straight eighth note, even at times pounding string ostinati was also very telling, as framing conditions on verge of breaking out into chaos at any moment. Nott made tracery of interaction in woodwind lines of “Vergangenes” (The Past) fascinatingly Mozartean in impetus and texture. The movement opened with cello, though marked piano, like so much else in environs, imaginatively placed back. Episodes of celesta ostinato broke out of suspended, arched appoggiatura from full strings, so supple in how Nott nudged them into shaping such gesture – and then also in winds, double time as marked, without undue agitation or exaggeration. This expectantly framed setting up a suggestively vernal quality to this ‘night music’ before completing somewhat terraced descending line in extension through lower winds and brass.

“Farben” sounded slightly rushed, with high woodwinds momentarily careless with dynamics on their interjections. Pulsation of chords and keeping their voicing between themselves suitably detached - as according to the composer’s wishes - was completely secure and intact. “Peripetie” began sharply with much snap from trumpets, percussion and rattling ostinato in horn. Nott made incisively audible little jagged break-ins of straight eighth note triplet ostinato in solo instruments and in sections playing off each other both imitatively and in free, partial inversion. All this was set off with muted brass chorale, at first brief then gently extended out later on in this piece. Ineffectual a stabilizing influence on so cracked a psyche suggested therein could this ever be.

Affectation of partial restoration of order, in Schoenberg half effective on purpose, informed ‘Das obligate Rezitativ” to close this, as much here arioso with gentle lilt, and intermittently with just hint of waltz motif this piece is as well. Nott was found especially supple where fragmentation of the line here might become more obvious, but not as to gild or dovetail a thing or in the least compromise what qualities made this music from the get-go a standout from all else. Buildup to very nearly searing climax on melodic thirds in the violins was most notable, with both at once tensile and supple receding from such to make cumulation of the argument absolutely complete. Nott sprung tense the wide reach over appoggiatura in violins at preceding nodal point - but all at once as though elastic, in descending light tremolo in flutes, strings, etc – within more substantial line it anticipatorily framed so very well.

One has read already that more oomph in the Schoenberg might be more ideal. For some tastes such might be suitable, but cliché of banging around some of the textures of this music would definitely be limiting by comparison to what got heard here. Just reckon how well voiced, iconoclastically so, and at same time delicate some of Schoenberg's textures are. Eschewal of vulgar expression to emanate from such was complete, without any preciosity or manufactured grace, new mannerism to (supposedly) fill in gaps. The members of the Mahler Jugendorchester, so urged to put all padding and unnecessary (typical youth orchestra) device aside, were fearless at their assignment here, even more notably so with this than in the Strauss to follow. So clearly evident it was that Nott’s respect for their abilities and expressive potential was complete.

Such rapidly achieved expressive maturity was equally something at which to marvel during the Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra. Opening trumpet calls sounded decisive and lean - pointed to ends of cadences as though to open out a world that has and will have little to do with what lurks out beyond Earth’s orbit. For Strauss and Nott the world of humanity, all its aspirations, passions, needs, desires, imagining perfectly sufficed.

“Von den Hinterweitlern” at outset with no underlining, groped its way into light, and all very refreshingly things through luminous chamber orchestra sonority ruminations remained free. Firm pulse through sinuous line - no suffocating it from divided strings - remained ubiquitous. There was ultimately no forcing of any impatient anticipation of what will follow. Hearing this passage, with instead the passion in it to burn from within as opposed to making one great slather out of it all turned out so very refreshing. Perhaps there was here already a hint of earlier career Klemperer or someone along those lines in the objectivity of such a reading, as opposed to something more echt such as from Clemens Krauss, but better not to affect something that can not really exist anymore. Development of ‘grossen Sehnsucht’ into ascending octuplet thirty-seconds in strings was organic, sculpted, even if revealing slight strain - but without trying to make huge igneous eruptions out of it all as shoved hard as possible that often brings about much worse faking from fully professional orchestras. “Von den Freuden” smoldered with well generated passion but from far beneath; well calibrated support, through beautiful voice leadings made way for “das Grablied.”

A most gentle yearning informed the dirge with concertmaster aiding cantilena in the strings into wafting state of reverie with nothing either to sag or unnaturally tighten up. All the time taken in the world was there to be had and savored for what follows the 'immer ruhiger' (always calm) marking. Musicianship had reached such a high level that one began to wonder what got read to the musicians at rehearsal. No great philosophical depths were plumbed here quite, but impetus sounded so constantly at high alert here. Some suggestion of philosophical import must have been made but as to achieve most convincingly the highest form of simplicity attainable in modern played Strauss. Deep ruminative intimacy – as Strauss emulating late-period Liszt - opened “Von den Wissenschaft” - sehr langsam fully observed - with transition made to marking of ‘schnell’ sudden as marked, effortlessly and without streamlining anything. The prop of docking upon reprise of introductory trumpet call for anchoring ensemble (tight) got removed from underneath; nobody here sounded in need of any props. All energetically mobilized lines remained clear, through “Der Genesende” (“The Convalescent”), to fine, certainly loud, but never blasted climax.

Out of dark groping emerged an infectiously joyous Tanzlied - forest all about alive, hopping, guileless, with no gilding - all so echt-Vienniese as Nott having been to the manner born, ‘leicht und elastich’ observed unusually well - all thought erased of the forcing of many lines chasing each other around to keep things together. A little more overwhelming climax has been made of what comes of this; all happened as such that I would not want such back in place of what qualities these people brought instead to this often bowdlerized score. Nott clearly thought ahead at very outset from where ascent towards peak begins, also having helped make supple beautifully played duet between concertmaster and English horn. Nott completely without preciosity brought out of closing passages to this Zarathustra great febrile melos - with it seeming not so much to be over when it stopped as perfectly ready to recommence - pulsation was still so alive.

The joy in making music here was real. No better new rendition of this piece has appeared before me since Metzmacher with Orch Nat’l de France; this was one to rate worthy to stand right next to it – either one vastly better than lately from the Proms by Zinman (Tonhalle Zurich) and Jansons (Bavarian Radio). I also can not recall a student orchestra to have near so much thrown all student orchestra mannerisms as far aloof as are the four corners of the globe. Here was an effort in what must’ve gone into it - most everyone on stage looking delighted to participate - I tend to associate more with architecture students than with music. Watch this on youtube - generously submitted by double-bass player from within this year’s ranks. You will then know.

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