Friday, 17 May 2019

Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival

Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019
Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Weber Overture to Euryanthe, Schubert songs (orch. Stuchasch Dyma), Schumann Symphony No. 1; Rene Pape, Dresden Festival Orchestra, Ivor Bolton; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 May 2019
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

The Dresden Festival's period orchestra brings colour and texture to the music of Weber and Schumann, with an intriguing selection of Schubert lieder orchestrated

Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra
(Photo Oliver Killig)
The Dresden Music Festival (Dresdner Musikfestspiele), which this year takes as its theme Visions, opened on Thursday 16 May 2019 at the Kulturpalast in Dresden, the Soviet-era cultural centre which re-opened in 2017 with a brand-new auditorium within the historic building. Ivor Bolton conducted the Dresden Festival Orchestra, the festival's own period-instrument ensemble which specialises in the music of the 19th century, in a programme of Weber, Schubert and Schumann. We began with Weber's overture to Euryanthe and finished with Schumann's Symphony No. 1 'Spring Symphony'. In between the bass Rene Pape, who is something of a local hero, sang orchestrations of Schubert songs, Prometheus and the six Heinrich Heine settings from Schwanengesang, all orchestrated by Stuchasch Dyma.

Ivor Bolton launched into the overture with verve, the orchestra playing with a crisp bright sound, creating a very distinctive sound-world. Compared to a modern-instrument orchestra the strings dominated far less, but there are other factors in play. The technology of instruments developed for a reason, the instruments of the period are more fallible and generally less even in timbre and tone across the range. This means that every not has a different quality and colour, and the sound of the orchestra was very textural.

In the louder passages of the overture the sound was exciting without being bombastic, and in the quiet passage related to Emma's ghost the strings had a lovely veiled quality. And it was worth the entrance fee just to hear the glorious sound of the four hand-stopped horns.

The programme book did not reveal who Stuchasch Dyma is, but they have produced a cycle of Schubert orchestral songs which seems to nudge the composer closer to the type of Romantic opera being produced by his older contemporary Weber.

Dyma used a large orchestra, the same as the Weber, and brought an imaginative range of colour to the orchestration, including using contra-bassoon, bass clarinet and tam-tam. Yet there was a problem, Rene Pape seemed sensibly inclined not to sing the songs as if he were Wotan, and kept his performance relatively intimate. Dyma's orchestration seemed to take no account of using a bass voice, the orchestrations would probably work well with a high voice soaring over the orchestra, but too often Pape's voice was covered by the orchestra playing in the same range, and he failed to dominate in the way necessary to bring these songs off. Whether or not you wanted to hear Schubert orchestrated, the fact that Pape's words did not dominate was a major problem.

Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Schumann's Symphony No. 1 was his first major venture into orchestral music, thanks to his wife Clara's urging. It was premiered in Leipzig in 1841 with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. The slow introduction was full of colour and texture, seemingly each fragment of a phrase with a different combination. The main Allegro was bring and impulsive, with a nice wit in the second subject. Despite hesitations and interruptions, the main thrust of the movement was its unstoppable energy. For all the lyric nature of the Larghetto slow movement you noticed the lovely variations of texture, timbre and colour as material passed between instruments. The scherzo is marked Molto vivace though here it came over as more of a country dance and the main interest lay in the two innovative trios and the coda, with Schumann stretching the traditional form somewhat. Ivor Bolton and the orchestra began the finale with a brilliant opening gesture. Marked Allegro animato e giocoso, this was light, bouncy and positively toe-tapping with superb moments from the horns in particular in the cadenza-like moments. The whole movement was shot through with drama, yet with a light touch.

Schumann's orchestration can sometimes be perceived as a problem, and indeed he was inexperienced at writing for orchestral brass instruments, yet played on instruments of the period some of the problems (notably of balance) disappear whilst we get the full range of colour and timbre from the period. My only gripe about the concert was that an opportunity was not taken to perform original arias with orchestra by one of Schubert's contemporaries, rather than orchestrating his masterly lieder.

Elsewhere on this blog
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    • Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival (★★★) - concert review 
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