Tag Archives: Ian Bostridge

Welcome to the temple of Bostridge / Figures from the Antique / Wigmore Hall – 20 February 2012

25 Feb

This was a concert on home turf for Ian Bostridge. At the Temple of Bostridge, as memorably put by a fellow attendee, a concert venue where Ian is king for the last few years and he can do no wrong. No wonder he was given his little mini season to curate, the unapologetically titled Bostridge Project complete with a haloed portrait of the great musical leader. Despite the cringe worthy promo this opener for the mini season was a great evening, suitably eclectic in music periods and also orchestral accompaniment.

The first half was the section devoted to baroque responses to the antique, with Kirchschlager opening the evening with a tremendous rendition of Handel’s cantata, with exquisite presence and brooding passion she negotiated the twists and turns of the narrative with elegance and urgency.

The Corelli sonata was a beautiful interlude, featuring some fresh violin playing by Nadja Zwiener and a -mostly- alert sound from The English Concert.

Then the home boy came out to sing his Nero cantata and he was indeed very good, despite not resisting his urge to come though a touch mannered. He sang too light heartedly, while almost tiptoeing on the front of the tiny Wigmore Hall stage. I’d rather have a less effete Nero to be honest.

After the interval and while watching with incredulity that so many members of the Aurora Orchestra can fit on that stage the programme turned to modern takes on Greek myth.

Satie’s narration of the death of Socrates was an affecting mix of low lying harmonies and rolling drums. With Bostridge delivering the piece, impressively without a music stand for reference. His elegant delivery became here more of an asset as it added tenderness to the description of the last conversations of Socrates with his disciples and the eventual drinking of the deadly poison. It was moving and atmospheric, in a way more paired down and involving than the baroque first half put together.

Angelika Kirchschlager is a brave soul to tackle Phaedra a late masterpiece by Britten written with the particularities of Janet Baker’s voice in mind. And I can honestly say she triumphed, negotiating the complex part with insight and individuality. The last uttered phrase: ‘My eyes at last give up their light, and see the day they’ve soiled resume its purity’  was a consummation of  the last 20 minutes of delicious music making, the audience hanging to every nuance. The part is high-lying and declamatory, but Britten’s deadly serious music, with tremulous strings and deafening, abrupt percussion creates a potent, intoxicating mix. It was a shame that no orchestral piece was added to the programme for the Aurora Orchestra who gave a pulsating account of both Satie and Britten, allowing their individual voices to be heard.

The concert was recorded for future CD release, so look out for it and make your own mind up. Janet Baker’s definitive version with the English Chamber Orchestra is available alongside Britten’s own recording of The Rape of Lucretia. Her vision forever stamped on the heroine and will always be a guiding light and a yardstick for any singer taking it on.

Britten: War Requiem / LSO / Noseda / Barbican Hall – 11 October 2011

13 Oct

 ‘…the work is so superbly proportioned and calculated, so humiliating and disturbing in effect, in fact so tremendous, that every performance it is given ought to be a momentous occasion.’ (published in The Times on 31 May 1962 after the world première in Coventry Cathedral)

Reading the words by the music critic of The Times after the world première is summing up the impressive proportions of the work and the high expectations the audience has every time it is performed live. It is demanding three exceptional soloists and in many ways any live performance has to fight past the wonderfully magnetic premiere recording by Britten himself holding the baton with Vilshnevskaya, Pears and Fischer-Dieskau. Of course it is interesting how this work written to celebrate the opening of Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence (actually performed 5 days after the official opening/consecration) was to fall foul of cold war politics after the Soviet government did not allow Vilshnevskaya to take part in the first performance, Britten had to make do with Heather Harper. Ironically the three different nationalities of the soloists were meant to be emblematic of reconciliation but in reality it proved an unattainable target till the 1963 recording for Decca where the LSO is paired with Britten’s three ideal singers.

Having been all too familiar with the famous recording I had high expectations and a clear idea how difficult it must be to pull it off live. It was initially disappointing not to have Sir Colin Davis conduct it as originally advertised (amusingly Davis conducted Peter Racine Fricker’s The Golden Warrior two weeks after the first performance of Britten’s magnus opus, which was contributed by Sadler’s Wells to the arts festival for the opening of the cathedral) but Noseda was terrific as it happens!

Britten’s take on the standard Requiem is fascinating. He mixes the finite sounding Latin mass for the dead with Wilfred Owen’s war poetry in his goal to express his abhorrence for war and its consequences. The soprano is the only soloist singing in Latin providing a focus with her tutti with the choir. The tenor and baritone are involved in conversational passages and longer solos only accompanied by a small portion of the orchestra. The boys are accompanied by a bland organ accompaniment adding a certain English charm. What was very clear in the vocal writing for the tenor was how close in form it is to Oberon’s part in Midsummer night’s dream that he had completed two years before the Requiem. There’s a certain crystalline purity of line that is terribly alluring in the right hands.

The way the separate forces were distributed across the stage and the auditorium was a thoughtful touch and true to Britten’s instructions. The soprano was amidst the front row of the choir in the middle of the stage. The tenor and baritone were on the left of the conductor with the children’s choir and chamber organ tacked away at the back left of the Balcony. An interesting use of the acoustic was having the boys face to the side, thus their otherworldly, uninvolved with stage action, singing was hovering above our heads.

The true star of the evening was the London Symphony Chorus which uttered their opening phrases in Requiem aeternam with such subtlety and bitterness, instantly setting the tone for the whole evening. Britten wanted horror and creepiness from the chorus and he surely got that from the LSC. Their singing was attentive to the instructions of Noseda and had the required force and energy where required e.g. Dies irae.

Ian Bostridge has been a Britten specialist for most of his career and surely his engagement with the material was total. His opening solo was full of sensitivity and beautifully enunciated English as befitting the narration of Owen’s war poetry. He clearly engaged his whole body while singing, thrusting himself forward to reach the climactic moment in Agnus Dei. He was as wonderful to listen to as it was to look at.

Simon Keenlyside is a piece of butch baritonal hunkiness (as confirmed in the recent Pelleas) and he was excellent throughout but for me he lacked a little bit of idiomatic affinity with the piece. He was more Keenlyside than a German soldier in the mould of Fischer-Dieskau. Looking forward to change my mind, maybe, when I listen to the CD release of the concert. He just sounded a bit too heavy handed, at times verging into camp parody (especially in the Abraham passage).

Sabina Cvilac did a good job too, but seemed on the small size vocally to cut through the bells, trumpets and huge choir at times. Her tone was warm, but not as troubled sounding or commanding as Vishnevskaya’s. Someone with heavier artillery (terrible pun) would have given more punch to the Latin script and propelled it across the auditorium with more ferocity.

Britten’s complex textures with glistening strings and menacing percussion surely needs an orchestra at the top its game and the LSO once more impressed beyond measure. They were assured and well honed. Clearly in sync with Noseda (not a too frequent collaborator) and serving the music and their own world class reputation with aplomb. I am terribly happy that both performances were recorded to be preserved. The upcoming CD will hopefully transmit the excellent night we all had at the hall and how Britten’s shattering vision was brought to life and unfolded in front of us in 90 relentless minutes. It truly was a wonderful evening and with a piece that relays uncertainty and horror. A good match for the world we live in, torn by wars and on the edge of financial collapse.

Here’s an interesting photo gallery on the LSO’s Facebook account (look out for the stage plan!)

Here is the PDF of the programme

Britten’s War Requiem

11 Oct

After months of waiting, tonight will be my first ever live War Requiem. Glad it is courtesy of a sterling team and reading through the reviews of the first performance on Sunday, it will be a grand occasion.

You can join in by reading through the programme notes, kindly provided by the LSO, download the PDF here . Tonight’s performance alongside Sunday’s are being recorded for future CD release.

More (hopefully) tomorrow or follow my Tweets for more immediate off the cuff commentary!

%d bloggers like this: