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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

BBC - BBC NOW, T Fischer. G Capucon. Probing Shostakovich Sixth central to program of crisply evoked Russian moods. Cardiff, Wales. 17.9.2010

Motivation not to miss this - season opener at St David's in Cardiff - was clear - the Shostakovich Seventh that became major highlight of the BBC Proms. This all-Russian program featured instead the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony – one of his best.

Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain was first of two pieces on this program to conjure up the supernatural; with utmost simplicity Thierry Fischer and BBC National Orchestra of Wales caught it. Like Vladimir Jurowski at the Proms, Fischer opted for the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration of this piece. Fischer's means, with the more smoothly executable orchestration of Rimsky-Korsakov to bring out much still remaining savagery was the simpler, less contrived - better, more clearly thought out than with Jurowski. Insistence on drier sonority than is perhaps norm with the more Romantic orchestration of this piece was just partly key, alongside bracing capture of the music's insistent rhythms. Under-girding of most animated, agitated passage-work was solid, supplying means by which orchestral voices above could find easy lift and bounce. Without needing extra boost or being worked in the least, the ferocity of this music spoke forth in fine relief. Strings opened lines in the tranquil epilogue to this piece with retiring stance, opening space for most expressive playing, handled limpidly by both flute and clarinet, answered by light harp arpeggios and bell tolling in the distance.

The diabolical frolic to open this program got immediately followed aristocratically by the Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, played by Gautier Capucon. Most evident at first was the ease with which Thierry Fischer and his Welshmen picked up on the simplicity of the Romanticized classicism behind this piece. Some lingering over sub-phrase endings in the violins happened normally as expected. Gautier Capucon matched well at first, and with minimal bow pressure, with what was accompanying him – all with polished affectation of rustic air to the phrasing. With upbeat accent on octave jumping bassoon, concertato of winds starting interlude and also postlude to first variation had almost equally good say as did soloist, with fine lift over variation formed over long sequence of triplets, and forthright tone and direction for the second variation – well accompanied until hard push on concertato of concluding flutes. Expressive, supple shape was made of following C Major romanza with fine decoration to line from light winds, with soloist also deftly making long descent in triplets with fine staccati light, as verging on spiccato, anticipating full spiccato in brilliantly running up and down fingerboard for quasi-cadenza material in gently gavotte-step variation to follow.

Principal flute, making simple reprise of main theme, was excellent, over felicitous caprice from Capucon - some of it then beginning to sound worked and extending caprice a short ways into largamente transition to the slower melancholy D Minor variation. Capucon started this exaggeratedly soft, but with clarinet principal to match his tone in responding so very well. Final variation started dryly with good propulsion, but then with intruding rough negotiation of double-stops, octaves off ascending trills - making less confident conclusion to the Tchaikovsky than how things began. Faure's Elegie in C Minor, with dark tone, strong profile of its melancholy, nobly served as encore, with fine introspection from clarinet and oboe principals to supplement Capucon. Broad feel for transition to conclusion of this piece kept all mostly intact, overlooking some roughness for cadenza like passage therein.

Shostakovich’s Sixth comprised most of the second half. Fischer got some criticism for his Shostakovich Seventh at the Proms being a little too dry, perhaps even unfeeling – a little dry, yes, but the rest I did not sense. Here he has followed up with the Sixth. For someone not akin to the idiom, Fischer certainly chose a broad enough tempo for the opening Largo – similar very slow pace as Metzmacher took with San Francisco two seasons ago. Less controversially, Metzmacher caught the music’s Romantic overtones more fully than did Fischer - so for the opening Largo, it was Fischer who took the greater risk. Lean quality to the music-making, ascetic, even acerbic at certain junctures was striking - such that Fischer was able to sustain through quiet, almost entirely still spaces during especially the latter half of this opening Largo. Toward eventually making lean, arched shape of lengthy reach for first loud ending of a phrase, Fischer brought out of his violins fine glimmer of light, to avoid anything becoming too detached; violins became then both supple, distraught, plus lean, to sufficiently cap off the grand line.. Harmonic spelling of undulating horns under ascending winds toward second crest within such line was clear and firm, then naturally making space for violins to ruminatively break in with strands of the first theme, mostly the cadential ending to it, spinning out from there and so darkly echoed by lower winds with same manner of entering, over more filled out undulation in triplets.

Fischer marked very well episodic piccolo first theme reprise, making how well it delays more conclusive, incisive climax felt very well - with its descending trills from upon high over devastating interjection from brass and timpani. Remindful warning from full orchestra Fischer had frame, away from doleful English horn solo and duet between flute and bassoon to further comment, from expansive space made for lengthy flute cadenza over sustained quiet trill and tremolo. This was framed on other end by warm horns slowly and warmly marking single pitch dotted rhythm that marks opening of the first theme over octave trill to - avoiding banal overstatement - naturally gild them in celesta.

After long retransition violins then calmly, resolutely recapitulated the first theme - with as though all fire taken out of them. In answering comment by mourning low bassoon, strings made all spectral and anguished, febrile of their broad final line – all hovering beyond moment last chord has sounded with something definitely foreboding.

At decent Allegretto pace, solo high clarinet and flute circumspectly tossed off opening lines– supplemented by fine sense of naiveté. For elaborate development to ensue, Fischer made acute our catching his still ever fluid ear for the special language in which this music is written - a Shostakovich debt to Carl Nielsen. Wiry run in strings, making all sound precarious, spun off xylophone toward preparing curiously weightless brass in making half-trivial, ironic refrain to follow, that followed soon by very animatedly on purpose matter-of-fact dissembling flute and piccolo first theme and runs. Full climax to this maelstrom of a scherzo was just sufficiently regularly paced toward austerely provoked climax - while recalling, uncharacteristic for him, Metzmacher’s larger than life approach to same passage – opposite approach - with purposefully banal fugato to have preceded all this (under insistent repeat note tremolo in strings from both). All coming off then had a light, dissembling air to it - Fischer profiling quasi-glissando runs incisively in several winds, especially high clarinet and flute over great void. Capturing high endings to these helped make them resemble meteor showers or shooting stars on a cold, clear night, as though all untethered, ready to collapse over the void. Steady pulsation through the end, contextually helped make sense of pointed piccolo solo refrain framing conclusion to mad scherzo - with then all dissembling into thin air over insistent timpani.

Insistent trot to step, pulsation marked good light bounce and lift to opening lines of the final Presto. Very incisive winds paprika’d their off-beats marking second half of first subject to the fore, with their succeeding runs capping all off as off-kilter as Shostakovich wrote them. Fischer made stretto endings to it all very incisive and lean. Heavier dance in three Fischer also kept light, while avoiding turning it into resembling cheaper brand of Prokofieff. Danse macabre spinning out was instead striking, with raft of pitches in winds and brass unusually heard over firmly insistent and ominous intimations of D-S-C-H in brass and percussion. Reprise of opening to the finale surreptitiously made its way back in - deftly by concertmaster Lesley Hatfield in reply to doleful bassoon. The carnival-like coda to this had a very Circus Polka feel to it – with snarling brass in mid-ground underneath – with the dry sound, texture Fischer can favor, that final strands of this turned excessively brash on him. Fischer still had fine success with this Sixth - supplementing well the Seventh that so notably this year preceded it.

Revelation of an uncannily innate sense of how Rimsky-Korsakov’s music works made May Night Overture to open the second half an unqualified success here, to supplement altogether wholesome interpretations for so much of this program. Intimation of Weber’s Oberon on opening horn calls, answered so ardently amorously by languishing strings and winds, was rapt, even exotically so. Thierry Fischer revealed a special knack one associates with Russian conductors of more than fifty years ago, albeit they offered richer color, nuance than one can expect from Fischer. In development, mostly if not entirely reprise of especially lyrical subjects, extracted from two major duets of romantic interest during opera to follow, Fischer lent a transformative sense to how they recur, plus a piquant sense to woodwind then stern brass interjections.

Fischer’s way of making transition from often expansively lyrical ideas to vigorous dance-like conclusions and episodes just so independent thereof was very supple, as combining ardent line in cellos with divisi violins on dance rhythms right above not long before concluding the overture. All came to a conclusion that was very winningly both vigorous and fresh, rapt with color and febrile line, infused by (Ukranian) folk-like spirit - with dance rhythms especially. The vernal spirit, freshness of music to introduce the first and tbetter of Rimsky-Korsakov’s two far too neglected village operas Fischer met with ideal simplicity. This could have made a wonderful closing piece, parting shot - suffice it to say it opened an altogether fine second half.

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