Friday, 11 November 2011

Guest Post from The Arts Desk:Choral Music & Bluebeard’s Castle


As an experiment we have the first in a planned series of guest postings from The Arts Desk.

This week The Arts Desk’s classical music reviewers took in a wealth of choral music and paid a frightening visit to Bluebeard’s castle.

On Thursday evening, Edward Seckerson headed to the Royal Festival Hall for a semi-staged performance of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen, as part of their Bartók season entitled Infernal Dance. After a first half of Debussy and Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, played with disappointingly little personality by Yefim Bronfman, the audience was taken to Bluebeard’s castle. Seckerson was firmly of the opinion that this operatic masterpiece needed no form of staging, no choreography, to hammer home the disturbing images it evokes, a sentiment borne out as the projected images of condensation droplets and blood seeping through a cloth added nothing to the atmosphere and psychology of the piece, and if anything only impeded the imagination. Thankfully the quality of the musical interpretation made up for this needless distraction: John Tomlinson and Michelle DeYoung were extraordinary in the lead roles and, in full command of their vocals and the interior world of their characters did all the visual conjuring work that was necessary.

As something for the weekend, Graham Rickson chose to focus on three discs of choral music in The Arts Desk’s pick of the week’s most interesting classical CD releases. The first was a recording of Fauré’s Requiem by the Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi. The revelation of this recording was that it refreshed a stale work tarnished by its own popularity. Rickson was able to appreciate anew the understated nature of the piece, and the warmth, consolation and sincerity it emits, especially in countertenor Phillippe Jaroussky’s solo Pie Jesu. The accompanying pieces were also a pleasure, including a rare performance of Fauré’s unusually bold psalm setting Super flumina Babylonis. Rickson’s second selection was in fact a classical DVD of Riccardo Chailly’s Gewandhausorchester filmed performing Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which amply met Rickson’s criteria of being well directed (by Michael Beyer), superbly performed and boasting excellent sound quality. Chailly is clearly having fun with the more peculiar elements of Mahler’s work, leading a consistently strong ensemble with his dynamic, positive conducting, making it an all the more accessible, coherent and affirmative experience. Rickson’s final disc of the week was In the Beginning by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, a collection of mixed choral works bravely spanning five centuries and including the likes of Holst, Copland and Eric Whitacre. The choir’s sound – all clear diction and precise intonation – is top quality and very English, while the balance between brass and voices is just right. Though the songs themselves vary in quality, the performances throughout remain consistently faultless.

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