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, April 7, 2011

Dr Kultur: AB neo-expressionismus zyklus II. Wolfgang Rihm. Bruckner 7. DSO Berlin. Kent Nagano. Rayanne Dupuis. Philharmonie. 19.03.11.

Over-riding theme to this second pairing of mature Bruckner symphonies with contemporary work commenting upon it seemed to be German-ness, opening with work of particularly critical, soul-searching, deconstructionist perspective from Wolfgang Rihm. Kent Nagao conducted at the Bavarian State Opera four years ago his 35 minute monodram - Das Gehege (‘The Bawn’). Gabrielle Schnaut played the woman, Anita, accompanied by dancer as ‘eagle’ at its word premiere – pared with Strauss’s Salome (portrayed by Angela Denoke). Its text is the final scene of play by Botho Strauss, Sclusschor (title allusive to finale to the Beethoven Ninth).

A woman, night the Berlin Wall has fallen, has by stealth entered the Berlin Zoo and become involved with a caged eagle she finds therein and frees from its cage. She implores the bird to engage with her, taunts it to come nearer her, which it does. As the bird becomes more provoked, she becomes haughtier, more intrusive on its space - to point the bird then lunges at her; she then kills it, then emerges from the scene drenched in blood. A golden eagle, symbolizing Germany, with crises to which Germany has subjected herself to over the years, gets left subject to interpretation. Parallel between the eagle becoming an object of desire and Jokanaan’s severed head for Salome in Munich became obvious. Suggested is some ideation of the ego, concept of national identity closely related thereof.

Rihm’s rhapsodic scoring, definitely more conservative than his two full-length operas, evokes past musical heritage, but commenting upon such as in effect zooming in and out, alternatively subtly and abruptly for effect of varied distances and perspectives. Two orchestral interludes feature procession on echoing pizzicati, chimes, interspersed winds, brass all in detached whole tones to evocative, distancing Orinetal-esque effect. This all works confluent with the varied emotional, psychological states of Anita during strange encounter in question. Reference to an extended diatonic past musically has for Rihm something more to do with memory, recollection than anything else - challenged, confronted here full-out. Subversive it is to reveal tonality as Rihm does - left constantly floundering, between being subject to brass interjections from without and prone to self-destruction from within. All this seems to work parallel to the shattered psyche of the woman and morbid association in neurotic, even erotic identification with the bird to an aggressive extent - as Jens Laurson for MusicWeb Internat’l has indicated. Brass interjections help bring to the fore ramifications of extending tonality into numerous seventh, ninth, eleventh chords, overlapping thereof.

Over suspended dissonance in harmonics, other instrumentation, Das Gehege begins with assertive lines of reproach for decaying features of aging bird in question - parallel to revulsion one feels at first seeing the head of Jokanaan to start final scene of Salome. As contrast one has the woman muse elaborately over concept of ‘Wald’ – repeating the word a dozen times, to close this monologue, accompanied by varied orchestral reminiscences of what has transpired – ending below trailing off concertmaster harmonics over vast unfilled space. Mood for such development is elegiac - several waltz-like allusions to the music of Richard Strauss also, ranging from warmly nostalgic to sultry, debauched - latter as during Anita’s depraved observation of the bird’s decaying physical condition, i.e. in lusty chest tones on ‘Rippenkorb’ (repeated). Both at moment’s notice can abruptly break off into jagged, agitated stretto through violent swoops, half-glissando up in the strings – feigning strong beating of bird wings - peppered by highly dissonant brass interjections. Echoing of lyric lines, phrasing in harmonics, high woodwinds also comes across detached, less so poignantly elegiac writing for oboe and English horn.

Several quiet interludes in this create sensation of time suspended – with ostinati running through them seemingly devoid of any better than vaguely allusive connection to what has preceded or will follow them. ‘Time shards’ Michael Cherlin speaks of, regarding Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung definitely come to mind - likely Rihm’s least contrived sounding allusion thereof in ‘Das Gehege.’ March like rhythms emerge at moment’’s notice with little regularly paced to accompany, even during one interlude of increasingly clastic application of Alberti figuration in the strings. Concertmaster solo riffs off the section Alberti on harmony a whole tone up to accompany tellingly Anita addressing the eagle with line ‘Wo ist dein Doppenbild?’ Such reference to march rhythm, other musical allusion to militancy arrives by wonderfully varied means of instrumentation, placement, whether to the fore (and without tune to accompany) and/or functioning as something without aim, direction - ephemeral or upon which one at best can only obtain a tenuous grasp.

Onomatopaeic references to nature abound, such as telling extended moment for principal flute and concertmaster on harmonics playing exposed lines reflexively imitating each other as Anita reflects on how much or how little the eagle does toward matching her disturbed frame of mind. Free floating line of harmonics tremolo in exposed concertmaster solo, thinly accompanied during closing paragraphs is one more instance. Qualified masterpiece, mildly contrived as this work sounds, even through its air of nostalgia, there is some potent undercurrent here – remindful of how Rihm’s other operatic work, Conquest of Mexico for instance, really pushed the envelope.

For comparison’s sake, long track by Nancy Gustafson and Markus Stenz with Gurzenich Koln can be heard on youtube, for which we can be grateful. Both orchestras sound equally at home capturing the idiom, fully internalizing this music. Nagano and his more histrionic soloist Rayanne Dupuis – with hollower sound, slightly greater impetus to vent hysteria, but less warmth than Gustafson - lent this work the more detached perspective. Written very well, comfortably for the voice, animated here is much gestural variety, affectation through well connected line of recitative, arioso, declamation, melisma - all helping provide unifying quality to elaborate psychological landscape on display. Dupuis’s low notes were less secure, less lustrous, thereby less suggestive of deeper motif than those of Gustafson. Hardly less authoritative, less imaginative though has been this rendition.

Kent Nagano then offered Bruckner’s Seventh relatively along conventional lines, drawing full bloom out of DSO Berlin strings for their broad lines to abet sustaining fairly moderate pace for its first two movements. His perspective still seems mildly averse to bringing out what might be construed this music’s hieratic aspects. In fact, to avoid such intangibles, some interpretative sameness or generality took over sometimes. While openly maintaining linear clarity throughout the first movement, some specific turn of phrase, innate nuance thereof got mildly streamlined away.

Direct shaping of broad opening theme was good, but by there being some emphasis on strings projecting their sound forward, a little stodginess crept in early with violins extending out noble first theme toward its crest. Nagano then, assisted by his winds, regained focus overall shape with the second theme, winds providing very good light pulsated ring for ongoing current underneath. Buildup through ascending line in the strings thus sounded more circumspect. Not much there was to do to bring things down to making all down to earth; bourree like third subject opened with plentiful character until Nagano felt inclined toward arching, projecting line to emerge thereof, then to deftly close first large section of this movement. Reposeful opening of next section got slightly heavily enveloped – much ardor then drawn out of line DSO Berlin cellos with which to reply to wind’s first theme inversion.

Somewhat lean, dry in persuasion, loud C Minor transition, inversion Nagano avoided rushing excessively, although making slightly conspicuous mild slowing up for restatement of the first theme when it can enter more surreptitiously instead. Restatement of first theme material transformed in relaxed frame of mind held forth better appeal to Nagano; simplicity with such through altered third subject in a redefining new key then took over very nicely. Steeply arched first theme consequent based paragraph eloquently issued forth - pressed forward trumpets then to blaze forth moments later bringing all to a fine, noble conclusion.

Nagano moderately pacing the Adagio, may have curiously only achieved shallow depth in feigning simplicity at its core while stopping at only suggesting spiritual fervor associated therein. Warmly intoned by DSO strings, expression for opening paragraph sounded ready to settle for generically elegiac. Melos radiated through lyrical second subject; better shape got achieved with first subject reprise - anticipating ascent through early climax (in C Major). Sequencing of consequent to the main theme got provided good color, shape, contrast thereby. Nagano eschewed underlining or sentimentalizing reprise of second subject for sake of ear’s grasp of this episode’s harmonic function, placement within keeping intact majestic subtly contrasted entirety on display. He also thus subtly hid notion of too much riding on the surface, Overall profile became stronger during final reprise of the main idea for body of the Adagio, over slowly running sextuplets; Nagano held line supple and firm, even if making climax to the Adagio more suggested than cumulative. Hush over coda, with Wagner tubas, other brass very warmly framed conclusion to this with fine resolve.

Good swagger held sway for rollicking scherzo - good spring to line persisting through re-transition to restating the opening trumpet call. Voicing filled much out, helping make light incisive segue toward carrying line forward. Most all got confidently projected toward brightly ending both scherzo and its return, while keeping tempo rock steady. Strings drowsily gathered fine shape for the Trio. Nuance in brief measure for underpinning trombone got missed, however. Line sumptuously filled out with angst before fine passing state of repose got easily restored.

Through ruddy double basses picking it up, the finale’s first theme started off at a strongly syncopated jaunt. In fine contrast with how this opened, sobriety filled out chorale idea to follow. Nagano mildly distended jagged unison augmentation of opening idea before infusing first reprise of chorale with extra warmth. Development of mostly opening theme’s inversion lent overall line slack through repeat of jagged brass augmentation – until exaggerated reach for fully weighted high B from brass to forcefully frame, then cut idea off. It took until imminent coda for the brass to fully regain poise. Nagano then called emphatically for greater stillness and awe with which to provide chorale one final stopover. With aplomb, toward perhaps shaking off several cobwebs about to accumulate moments earlier, Nagano forthrightly brought shards of opening theme back in, then urgently started coda with fresh unblemished reprise of the same. Arched crescendo organically branched out, while veering near precipice well calibrated to overall line. With more thrust, after over-emphasis on half cadence right before, Nagano set most all ablaze for exalted conclusion to effort here.

Many have reckoned the Sixth Symphony preview of the Seventh - both very different from each other in numerous ways. The Seventh, in contrast with the Sixth, just on its surface - where Nagano seemed most comfortable hanging out – has the bolder profile and outline than the already daring Sixth, mixed with, especially in the Adagio, a more rarefied quality perhaps effacing Nagano’s temperament and outlook on how Bruckner should go. The Seventh, at its winsome surface, is still special - with qualities for its guilelessness that can get overlooked, and has by many before. Within its persuasion to engage more with present world lying before us, Nagano expressed greater ease with the Sixth, its unique demands, as evident at the 2005 BBC Proms and on disc. The Seventh, on this outing has proven an only slightly more elusive challenge for him.

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