Music

JohnH with 2010 Prom cocert tickets

More than a yard of tickets to the Proms!

Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest at the Concertgebouw

Alexei Volodin, piano, delivered a brilliant performance of Beethoven Fourth concerto, thrilling the Concertgebouw audience but eclipsing the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest. The Amsterdam orchestra came back after the interval with a Technicolor vision of the high Alps in the symphony by Richard Strauss.

Franz Liszt could have been playing the Steinway at the Concertgebouw this evening so brilliant was the piano work, in fact it was Alexei Volodin who dominated the stage of the Concertgebouw for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. A hesitant start had Marc Albrecht and the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest on the defensive right from the first page. Alexei Volodin outshone with pace, accuracy and the detail of his interpretation. His mastery of the scope Beethoven’s writing and understanding of the detail of the lines together with the flexibility and suppleness of his interpretation simply outclassed the orchestra.  Poor passing between soloist and orchestra added to the orchestra’s misery. Alexei Volodin played one of the most brilliant and extended cadenzas available for the first movement, the orchestra picking up limply following the customary trills.

Read more: Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest - March 2013

Erotically charged Tosca at Covent Garden from the Royal Opera; the core singing trio worked well together: Amanda Echalaz (Tosca), Massimo Giordano (Cavaradossi) and Michael Volle (Scarpia) are all “emerging talents” and playing characters of very similar ages to their own. The result was a dramatically credible performance with more subtle characterisations than is usually the case with a more blockbuster cast. A benefit of the now ubiquitous surtitles is to be able to follow the development of the plot in detail, line by line, as Puccini’s chilling melodrama unfolds.

Read more: Tosca - The Royal Opera

The London Philharmonic Orchestra at full strength gave us an intense and detailed account of Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome as the opening piece in their programme Ravel’s Obsession with Spain conducted by Enrique Mazzola at the Festival Hall as part of the Southbank Centre’s festival The Rest is Noise. This performance of Respighi’s multi-layered impressionist piece was the shining star of tonight’s concert.

Fountains of Rome, premiered in 1915, sits clearly in the time frame where music reacted with impressionism against the symphonic tradition, maybe (suggests the programme note) also as a reaction against the horrors of World War One. The result tonight was like enjoying a box of Belgian chocolates, each exquisite image rendered with fiery intensity. A benefit of attending the concert and seeing the orchestra was to realise there is also a part for the organ!

Read more: Ravel’s Obsession with Spain - London Philharmonic / Enrique Mazzola

The Mikado at ENO was delicate but tear-jerkingly funny, despite still the most ridiculous story line in all opera. Jonathan Miller’s renowned and now venerable production places the action in a fashionable nineteen-thirties hotel but the verbal and music satire thrive in the transposition. ENO's production has become a National Treasure just as much as a major National Trust property.

The fabulous thing about this production is that it is so light, fresh and delicate. My generation were (over) exposed to G&S in school and professional productions but, although well thought of at the time, these pandered to the toe-tapping aspects of  the music and their stagings were lumbering in comparison. This production plays the humour absolutely deadpan straight and is murderously effective for that.

Read more: The Mikado - Gilbert and Sullivan - ENO

Fine, fine music from the pit. Antonio Pappano letting the music breathe and giving the singers space to sing beautifully. Measured performances from the principal singers in Act 1 - Götterdämmerung is long and demanding.

But boy is this production emphasising the gloom and the sorrow. The end of the world is nigh almost before Siegfried has left Brünnhilde’s rock. The dawn on the same rock was pretty drab too. Siegfried’s usually glorious Act 1 duet with Brünnhilde was sunny but it didn’t set me alight with their joy. Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine (at last a transition where the production tried harder than video clouds) was literal, perhaps with echoes of the skeletal glass architecture of Frankfurt am Main railway station, but the video was a gloomy black and white affair, hardly a glorious journey after a night of heroic passion. Indeed Siegfried in this production seems very much a victim of events rather than the hero above all heroes.

The Valkyrie Waltraute turns up and the gloom gets monumental. Brünnhilde still in black. So much for the Prologue and Act 1. The setting is very much symbolic but to my mind doesn’t hang together. The Gibichung hall resembles the skeleton cube Tarnhelm and the transition video emphasises that. But Brünnhilde’s rock uses the same imagery, maybe a staging necessity but it’s just confusing and certainly not clarifying.

But the music and singing are fantastic with no signs of the dodgy ensemble on the previous night. If it was a problem with a video relay of the conductor then it had been fixed.

Read more: Götterdämmerung - The Royal Opera

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