Even goddesses falter / Anne Sofie von Otter + Michael Tilson Thomas + London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 2 February 2012

10 Feb

It has taken me a full week to process the disappointment of last Thursday’s LSO + Anne Sofie von Otter and Michael Tilson Thomas concert at the Barbican. I was expecting intense pleasure and jagged angular mid-war sonorities. Unfortunately what we got was a badly amplified performance, by a conductor that has all the finicky attention of a control freak and yet not a  natural ear for this music. The programming alone was a strange combination, with a rather starchy first piece and La Mer as the conclusion.

Singing Kurt Weill song cycles in a large auditorium like the Barbican ,with a fairly dry acoustic, is unforgiving. Those songs were meant for smaller venues where the amplification would be unnecessary or at least more subtle. At the Barbican the amplification of ASvO’s voice was hidden under a blanket of mushy, unfocused sound and her holding of the mic made it more so. It distorted every phrase and took away any possibility of jagged phrasing and honed gravel precision in the spirit of Lotte Lenya.

Her voice was as usual a mine of beauty, unfortunately that was only allowed to be shown when she would snarl phrases across to the audience without the microphone, in those brief moments she relayed, shame, confidence, strength and sex appeal. The main issue throughout was the non idiomatic approach of Tilson Thomas.

This band of wonderful musicians should be able to convey Weill’s intentions but sadly fell very short. Especially for the first three songs, the playing was lacking in authority and brightness. It sounded more like a dull ABBA sing-along (a favourite past time for ASvO) than a Berlin cabaret. It was hugely disappointing and led me to not stay for La Mer, a piece that can so easily slip into being a semi comatose  conductor auto pilot vehicle, with no sense of direction and structure.

At least she gave us a wonderful encore that was a glorious glimpse of what it could have been…alluring, warm, dangerous…listen to it and see what you think:

A few tweets from the evening

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