Tag Archives: Sabina Cvilak

Ciciban meets Suor Angelica / Rosenblatt Recital, Sabina Cvilak + Iain Burnside / St John’s Smith Square – 7 December 2011

9 Dec

Another recital at St John Smith Square, another time I adored the architecture but still found the venue to lack in atmosphere. Something about the stark crisp whiteness and the very dry acoustic somehow is not giving me a warm fuzzy feeling. Cvilak thankfully had no issues filling the space with her beautiful and clearly projected voice.

She is a really interesting case, a singer with a very lyrical voice but with an almost chilly timbre. On the surface she seems to lack inbuilt warmth but she clearly knows how to coax emotion when the repertoire calls for it. Saw her take part in a wonderful performance with the London Symphony Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda of Britten’s War Requiem and she was very expressive then but maybe mismatched to the demands of the piece …but still, a mile away from her tours around the world accompanying Andrea Bocelli.

The recital started with an inversion of the advertised running order of the three Slovenian songs. They were a very well chosen ice breaker and a characterful, whimsical choice too. Maybe I’m impressionable but, I’m always charmed when singers choose songs in their native tongue. Her approach was lyrical and very tender. Her unforced delivery was endearing and convincing. The two first songs were mournful and ever so slightly unhinged (the line :’ My father cursed and beat me, mother is crying over me, my family is ashamed of me, all fingers are pointing at me.‘ comes to mind). For me Ciciban was a great end to this section, a tender telling of the story of a little boy that gets approached by a bird that reminds him to wash his hands…never before I had a pedagogic lesson on hygiene for the under 5s, delivered with such sense of fun and panache from a concert platform, Julie Andrews would be very proud!

The next group of songs by Hauer based on poetry by Hölderlin, they were beautifully delivered and with impressionistic pianistic touches by Iain Burnside. But the best was still to come. The three Richard Strauss songs were a torrent or changing emotions, from hushed loving words to proclamatory fervour to the dreamy evocation of a ghostly lover. Again Burnside seemed to be in his element accompanying with great taste and allowing Cvilak to float phrases, creating the right atmosphere for these youthful efforts of the lovestruck young Richard. Those songs led to the interval leaving us all looking forward to the arias in the second half.

Somehow to sing at least one aria from La Bohème is something any lyric soprano tends to have a go in recital. Cvilak’s effort may have been short on actual vocal softness but the aria was infused with true understanding of the style, clear enunciation and a charming stage persona. The audience surely reacted to her interpretation and gave her one of the loudest applauses of the evening. Next up was Suor Angelica’s big aria, which I saw in the recent Covent Garden Il Trittico sang by Ermonella Jaho, who brought the house down with a searing interpretation that was immensely moving. Cvilak’s instrument is much cooler in temperament but still somehow managed to negotiate the aria without allowing it to turn twee and a routine effort. My only criticism would be her inadequate use of portamento to colour further the aria and give it a more touching effect.

The final Viennese operetta section was a delight, and actually a great fit for a mid week recital. It made us tap our toes and have fun with the happenings on stage. In particular the second aria (Du sollst der Keiser meiner Seele Sein) on top of all the fun, it also gave us the chance to hear a much deeper colour of her voice, as she used much her darker end of her tone to great effect. Which made me wish she had done the same with Suor Angelica, but maybe the temptation of a nun in white was too much to resist. Of course closing the programme with the Merry Widow was a total crowd pleaser and she really gave her all, fleshing out the character with nonchalance and sexiness with wonderfully clear, ringing high notes.

We were treated to two encores, both a logical step from the Puccini arias on the programme, her Io son l’umile ancella was passionate and at the same time desperate and resigned. A wonderful showy aria that any lyric soprano with a taste for verismo can create a huge impression, Cvilak did make a big splash again, staying on track with the required style and not resorting to the quite standard maudlin treatment. Her ‘Room with a view’ moment was surely full of freshness the aria requires but somehow did not have enough of a pleading quality. On Wednesday night she was lucky enough to have an accompanist of immense sensitivity and dexterity and also a well chosen, varied, entertaining repertoire. Can’t imagine a single person in the audience didn’t enjoy the recital. Looking forward to hopefully seeing her in fully staged opera in the coming years and what other roles she will tackle.

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!

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