Saturday 9 June 2007

Music at the Ballet

If I said that last night we'd been to a performance in London of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Catherine Wyn Rogers and David Rendall, coupled with Franck's Symphonic Variations and Bliss's Checkmate you might exclaim and then ask where the concert had taken place and why had you missed it? But, of course, the last item in my list, the Bliss, gives the game away. In fact, if you read yesterday's post you'll know, we were at the Royal Ballet last night.

But it is an interesting fact of life that sometimes the requirements of choreographers can give us performances of works which we'd not otherwise hear (the Bliss) or which would be satisfying in the concert hall (the Mahler). Bliss is not common in the concert hall so it was lovely to hear such a major score, especially when so well played and when coupled with Ninette de Valois's choreography.

I can remember some years ago (15?) the Anthony Tudor ballet Les Bandar-Log was being performed by the Royal Ballet (with Wayne Eagling as the boy with matted hair). The score uses the Koechlin tone poem and other works. It was probably virtually the only performance of a major Koechlin score in London by a major orchestra for a generation! (The ballet was good as well).

Of course, it does not always work. Tudor's ballet Voluntaries uses the Poulenc organ concerto and I was uncomfortable with the speeds slow used, coupled with the distressing sound of the electronic organ. But a companion who also loved the concert work enjoyed the ballet as well, so perhaps it was me. After all, I found that Macmillan's Gloria which uses the same composer's Gloria works very well for me. More distressing in the past have been performances of MacMillan's Requiem where the extreme vibrato used by the Royal Opera House chorus was not suitable for the Faure; but this has been addressed now and the last performance we heard of the ballet used another, more suitable choir.

More interestingly, when the BBC did a recording of the Royal Ballet's production of Les Noces they did so in the studio with Bernstein conducting. The dancers said afterwards that they had found it a challenge as Bernstein's speeds were far different (faster?) than what they were used to.

This use of concert works in ballet goes back a long way. When the Royal Birmingham Ballet revived Vaughan Williams/Ninette de Valois Job they coupled it with a Massine ballet to one of Brahms symphonies. A complex work, it had been amongst the works Massine had had notate quite late in his life. I remember it as being rather wonderful and would love to see it again.

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