Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin’

Tannhäuser is the last Wagner opera that Marek Janowski and the RSB are presenting in the Philharmonie before they tackle the Ring. Other than the Ring, it was probably also the only non-Ring opera that Janowski recorded on studio (albeit incomplete, as the soundtrack for Istvan Szabo’s movie Meeting Venus – Kiri Te Kanawa’s only Wagner recording, if you don’t count the Waldvogel in Haitink’s Siegfried or one Blumenmädchen in Solti’s Parsifal). It has been a while since then, which now is going to be an interesting pendant to the live recording  made this evening – while the 1993 release (with the Philharmonia Orchestra) presented the point of view of “Tannhäuser as fully mature Wagner”, the concert this evening showed it still enveloped in a post-Weberian atmosphere (or maybe it it is because I have seen Das Liebesverbot only this week…) – with lean, bright orchestral sonorities, cleanly articulated strings, an a tempo-approach to rhythms and an almost objective interpretation: no manipulation of dynamics, tempi or phrasing to create momentum. Each act developed spontaneously and naturally to their climactic final ensembles. These choices fit the RSB’s natural sound (which is not German-style beefy in itself). It is a pity, though, that the French horns were not in their best shape this evening. The Rundfunkchor Berlin was a strong feature this evening, especially the men. I just wonder why nobody wants to perform the “Paris” version anymore – I really don’t care if it does not really “matches” the rest of the opera. It is MARVELOUS music and I cannot understand why a conductor wouldn’t want to perform it.

Although Nina Stemme’s voice is a bit too mature for the virginal Elisabeth, she proved to master the ability of producing large-scaled Innigkeit, suggesting the necessary vulnerability in clean phrasing and aptly controlled fervor. She was also in splendid voice – full, warm and naturally voluminous. It is doubly regrettable that the “Paris” version was not used this evening, for Marina Prudenskaya would certainly be more than capable of tacking the extra challenge. I have heard her before only in small roles – and did not know the full extension of her voice. Her big, dark yet focused and ductile mezzo is entirely at home in Wagner – she does not need to force and phrases with homogeneity and elegance. If her interpretation is still a bit unspecific, this is only because she needs a bit more experience in the repertoire. And I am sure that there won’t be lack of opportunities for that – I cannot think of anyone else around closer to the physique du rôle in the operatic stages . The third female singer in the cast did not let down either – Bianca Reim has the ideal voice for the Shepherd, clear, pure and almost boyish.

Replacing an indisposed Torsten Kerl (who isn’t these days?!), Robert Dean Smith displayed amazing technical security and musicianship. It is a pity that his tenor lacks squillo in its higher register (what made him a bit inaudible in ensembles), but that it is the only thing one could complain about this evening. He  sang with unfailing good taste, flowing quality, crystalline diction and breathtakingly long breath. The fact that the role is not very close to his personality – I am afraid that there is not an ounce of wildness in someone one would rather describe as debonair – even made me rethink the role of Tannhäuser. This evening, there was no revolutionary artist trying fighting the establishment, but rather a harmless, heart-on-sleeve fellow who is suddenly told he is a sinner even without understanding exactly why. In this sense, the contrast to Christian Gerhaher’s extremely mannered Wolfram also worked as a dramatic point. This German baritone has a very beautiful voice and I know that I am alone in my opinion here, but I find annoying the way he sings without any legato, stressing this and that syllable, singing some notes unsupported and white toned or, when more energy is required, hectoring his way along in end-of-career Fischer-Dieskau-ian style. Fortunately, the Abendstern song prompted him to let the music speak for itself, and the result couldn’t be better: this was one of the highlights of this evening. Although there were rusty patches in Albert Dohmen’s singing, he was in far better voice than last time I saw him in Lohengrin and offered a very commendable voice. Finally, Peter Sonn was a very secure and forceful Walther. His is an interesting voice – but he could benefit from a more liquid, round-toned, natural phrasing.

Read Full Post »

Marek Janowski’s Wagner series with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is connected to recordings to be released by the label PentaTone, but the truth is that, until this evening, good as every performance has been, none of them has resulted a CD that has taken the discography by storm. Although it is impossible to predict how the recording made this evening is going to be, I cannot wait to buy it, for it is a Tristan und Isolde that I have always wanted to hear.

The very nature of Wagner’s most famous work calls for ponderousness, for an intensity cooked at low fire, for an approach to unending melody that almost invariably involves a very special tempo in which time seems to stand still. But the work is about passion – even at its most metaphysical – and passion is still the keynote here. And I like the way Maestro Janowski takes it at face value – I was tempted to write “in almost Verdian agitation”, but I have the impression that most Wagnerians would frown at it.  The feverish pulse, clearly articulated accompanying figures, the impacting accents, the brisk pace, the almost relentless forward movement – one would never mistake it for La Forza del Destino, but one could think of it at times. The first act benefited particularly from this concept – the drama developed without repose, as a single theatrical gesture wrapped in brilliant, angular, aptly raw orchestral playing. In act II, the conductor softened his orchestra for a more intimate perspective and one missed now and then the tonal focus in lower dynamics that only the top orchestras of the world have. It goes without saying that the level of clarity was short of sensational – I have discovered many novelties in this score (that I have last heard live only Saturday). Act III seemed entirely original to my ears – Tristan’s physical languor took second place to his spiritual turbulence and Janowski grew from intensity to downright frenzy in vortices of string playing that would have made it impossible for almost any tenor to survive the experience.

If Janowski’s vibrant conducting were not reason enough to single this performance out, Stephen Gould would alone be worth the detour. It is not difficult to say that he has no rivals in this role these days, but I also tend to think that he stands comparison with the best Tristans in recordings too. His voice is naturally powerful, firm and unproblematic – and Janowski did not spare him even in his most difficult monologues, in which he had to provide very fast declamation over the passaggio with a really loud orchestra on stage. It is doubly amazing that he was able to do this almost entirely within the rules of cantabile: Gould phrased with unusual elegance, sang long phrases on the breath, interpreted with imagination and tonal variety, shifted to softer dynamics more often than most. I have to confess that I have barely recognized some passages, so cleanly and musicianly as they sounded. Naturally, the task is inhuman and there were (rare) moments of tension and tightness – I can only wonder that, in the studio, he would be, well, unrealistically perfect. Bravissimo.

I took almost the whole first act to get used to Nina Stemme’s Isolde. It is a voluminous, weighty voice but very short on cutting edge. If her smoky, velvety tonal quality makes her immediately unique among dramatic sopranos, it is also true that she is often overshadowed by the orchestra, except above a high g, when she produces a truly exciting sound, even more so for its roundness and firmness (the high c’s were truly amazing). It is only when you get to the second act that you understand why Stemme’s Isolde is so highly appreciated – her warm tonal quality, her floating mezza voce, her generous flow of velvety tone makes her an outstandingly sensuous Isolde. And her Liebestod is certified top-quality too. It is curious that she seemed somewhat nervous this evening, especially in the first act, when she made some false entries and other minor blunders.

Michelle Breedt was an interesting choice for Brangäne – her forceful, finely focused mezzo sounded lighter and more penetrating than her Isolde’s voice. She seemed to miss stage action and tried to infuse meaning in every little syllable. Sometimes the result could seem a bit fussy, but her intent was always clear and aptly conveyed. The gigantic orchestral proved to be challenging to Johan Reuter (Kurwenal), who had to work hard to be heard and often without success. As King Marke, Kwangchul Youn did not have to struggle – he sang generously and sensitively, but his bass was unfortunately not at its firmest this evening.

Read Full Post »

In an interview for Gramophone, Marek Janowski said that his idea for his Wagner’s opera omnia series with the RSB was his dissatisfaction with contemporary German opera directors, who don’t understand the master’s work. Thus, in concert version, his operas could shine at their brightest without any “interference” from the theatrical überall Wahn. Curiously, the conductor did not explain what kind of theatrical direction would be, in his opinion, ideal for Wagner operas. This introduction might seem irrelevant, but it made me remember that one of my eight or nine readers, Stefan, on explaining why he did not stay for the second act of Janowski’s Meistersinger because “the conductor obviously did not care about the drama of the piece”. I wonder what Wagner himself would think of this dichotomy between music and drama in the context of Musikdrama – is it legitimate to say that a performance of a Wagner opera gains in musical values for not being disturbed by being staged? One might said that it depends of the director. I would add then that the advantage of a concert performance depends of the conductor as well.

I have seen staged performances of Wagner operas that were musically uninteresting but theatrically compelling, staged performances who were dull in terms of theatre but musically illuminating – and Wagner operas performed in concert version that were actually “dramatic” and some that were neither dramatic nor musically interesting. In other words, although there is no golden rule here, in view of Maestro Janowski’s opinions, I was ready to be overwhelmed by something revelatory in terms of conducting this evening. I haven’t – Daniel Barenboim “accompanying” either Harry Kupfer’s or Stefan Herheim’s stagings actually offered me something far more overwhelming. I do not mean that this evening’s was a bad performance – it was certainly not – but it hadn’t been special either. If one has in mind that it has been organized with the purpose of being recorded, it was supposed to be memorable – otherwise why release a CD of it, isn’t it? As it was, this was an outstandingly clear reading of the score with rhythmically accurate ensembles. If there is one opera the prelude of which is supposed to set the mood for what lies ahead, this is Lohengrin – not this evening, I am afraid: violins lacked floating quality in their pianissimo playing and the climax was so deliberately built that it actually hang fire. To tell the truth, strings lacked volume throughout, violins sounding particularly thin. Since brass were in healthy shape, this could be often problematic. Act II had a better start, the dark side of the opera apparently has more appeal to the conductor – the Ortrud/Telramund scene displayed superior structural coherence and the orchestra commented with some passion, when not reined in to spare singers in difficulty. The Rundfunkchor Berlin proved to be the trump card of today’s Lohengrin – no wonder that the ensembles were invariably the most exciting moments this evening. Lohengrin’s arrival in act I was particularly praiseworthy, one of the best I have heard either live or in recordings. By the third act, things seemed to gain somewhat in interest – the prelude to act III is one of Janowski’s specialties, but I have heard him conduct it more excitingly with this same orchestra in other occasion (here again strings lacked volume). In all honesty, one cannot blame the conductor alone for the lack of excitement. It is very generous of these singers to perform pro bono and I respect all of them for that, but this was no dream team for this opera – and one could see that Janowski had to make them many concessions that ended on impairing some key dramatic moments. A good example was Ortrud’s last intervention – the orchestra, for once, was ready to give it all, but the conductor had to scale things down and he deserves high praise for being able to keep some excitement there through articulation and accent alone.

Pregnancy seems to become Annette Dasch – although the role of Elsa requires a larger voice than hers, she sang it this evening really better than when I saw her in Bayreuth. Today I found her middle and low register particularly fruity and appealing and her attempts to produce pianissimo more effective. Her interpretation has deepened too and, even if her Elsa has more than a splash of “Gossip Girl”, it is also theatrically alert and attentive to the text. Susanne Resmark too knows everything she should know about Ortrud, but the role is impossibly high for her voice, making her sound hooty, breathy and sometimes off-pitch. I have seen Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin in various occasions and so far this has been his best performance in this role and I am glad that it has been recorded. His strangely ethereal yet forceful tenor fits the “role description” and he sang it particularly mellifluously this evening, while almost avoiding the abrupt ending of phrases that sometimes disfigure his singing. Gerd Grochowski masters the crispy declamation necessary to sing Telramund but, as his Ortrud, finds the role high for his voice, sounding often gray toned and limited in volume in the higher reaches. Together with this evening’s tenor and the chorus, the shining features of this performance are the outstanding Günther Groissböck, an exemplary Wagnerian voice, as King Henry and Markus Brück’s powerful Herald.

Read Full Post »

When reviewing Janowski’s Parsifal with the RSB, I have written that clarity above richness of sound seemed to define the conductor’s approach to Wagner, especially if one has his recording of the Ring with the Staatskapelle Dresden in mind. Well, this evening proves that Janowski’s Wagnerian abilities are more varied than I thought. Maybe because Die Meistersinger is notoriously long and massive, the conductor might have hought that a little orchestral glamour could be helpful. And his musicians did not hang fire. The overture alone was worth the expensive ticket price – full orchestral sound without any loss of structural transparence and flexibility. Then the Rundfunkchor Berlin happened to be in top form. The evening had a promising start.

I had never seen this opera in concert version and never realized until this evening how much of a challenge it is to balance a big orchestra on stage and roles meant for lighter voices in many conversational passages, often in the middle register of singers’ voices. Janowski took the decision of not sacrificing his orchestra and allowed singers to be heard over it by a very small margin. In the end of act I, for example, instead of giving the tenor the opportunity to shine in Fanget an! , he would rather give pride of place to the sensuous ebb and flow of string sounds in a way that made me rethink the whole scene. Act II never sounded so organic, with the difficult transitions spontaneously and coherently handled. If I had to make any observation, this would regard the last scene, the “on stage” band could be a little bit subtler and more integrated with the main orchestra. I am tempted to say that the more “intimate” passages could have a bit more Innigkeit and less objectivity and forward-movement, but then I am not sure if we had this kind of cast this evening.

My first and foremost vocal interest this evening was Edith Haller’s Eva. I saw her Gutrune and Sieglinde in Bayreuth last year and found her simply outstanding. My first impression this evening was that her interpretation was too much about minauderie. Her Eva was desperately little-woman-ish, piping and pecking at notes old-Viennese style. One would have never believed she sings roles like Elsa or Sieglinde. Eventually I would start to suspect that she was simply not in good voice – some high notes were a bit sharp and often fixed and unflowing. Of course, she still has a lovely voice and had no problem piercing through the orchestra, but I will really have to hear her Eva again to say something about it. Michelle Breedt was a very charming Magdalene, supple and warm-toned. Robert Dean Smith has the right voice and personality for the role of Stolzing. He sings with exemplary legato, real feeling for the words and good taste. His high g’s and a’s could be a bit ampler and brighter, but were round and easy nonetheless. I have seen more flexible and varied Davids than Peter Sonn, but I confess I like his straight-to-the matter ways with the role. Thank God he is no tenorino, while the voice is warmer than the usual Spieltenor’s as well. Dietrich Henschel’s unfocused and often rough Beckmesser made one wonder why one would consider that Meistersinger-level. Albert Dohmen’s bass-baritone sounds too heavy and sometimes effortful in his high notes as Hans Sachs. The tone is not really noble, but the voice is large and he is able to keep clear articulation for more declamatory passages and even soften for one or two key moments. But the results were too often Wotan-like in a role where congeniality is important. Georg Zeppenfeld was an efficient Pogner, but Matti Salminen’s cameo as the Nachtwächter showed up his younger colleagues’ less classically Wagnerian voices.

Read Full Post »

The audiences in Berlin are almost uniquely spoiled – besides two major opera houses (and an adventurous third one), the city counts with a a couple of world-class orchestras. I have to understand that as the reason for the way Marek Janowski and his RSB Orchestra are usually overlooked. I particularly value Mr. Janowski for his complete recording of Wagner’s Ring with the Staatskapelle Dresden, a paragon of structural clarity if a bit short on drama (and a more natural recorded sound…). When I had the opportunity of asking him years ago what is his objective as a Wagnerian conductor, his answer was: “clarity, clarity, clarity!”. And he is still faithful to his creed, as he proved this evening.

Janowski and the RSB have launched a very ambitious project of performing all Wagner’s mature works (in the sense of “from Der fliegende Holländer on”) in concert with international casts. Unfortunately, I have missed the first installment, but couldn’t let the second one pass. And it has been certainly worth the detour. Although the RSB does not have the glamorous sound of the Berlin Philharmonic (it is particularly unvaried in color and maybe short in dynamics), it is an extremely capable Wagnerian orchestra, ready to give its conductor all it can do. And I suspect purely beautiful and big sounds are not what Janowski is looking for anyway. Although they might have been helpful in the Karfreitagszauber passage and other key moments, one would find more than compensation in a performance where one could feel as if reading the score. Really, everything Wagner wrote would come clearly and naturally to you in transparent orchestral sound, perfectly balanced and intelligently set together and consequent tempi that made phrasing sharp as blue-ray image. That said, life is never so simple – although I had the second act of my dreams this evening, the outer acts, clear and musical as they were, seem to cry for… overwhelmingly rich orchestral sound, even at the expense of some transparency. Especially in a concert performance. But then these acts depend very much on the casting for Gurnemanz.

That Franz-Josef Selig’s voice is outstandingly beautiful is no matter of dispute. Its voluminous velvetiness and the ductility that allows it touching soft tones made his Sarastro famous. One can feel a “but” coming and here it comes – since some time, his high register has been sounding tense and discolored unless he sings it piano. As it is, his fondness for low dynamics and his elegant phrasing makes his Gurnemanz convincingly benign and sensitive, but recently he sounds too often uncomfortable when required to sing full out in his high register. As a result, many Wagnerian climaxes hang fire – particularly in the Philharmonie, which is not the user-friendliest place for singers.

Christian Elsner’s lyric yet warm-toned tenor made Parsifal sound young as he should, but he is not really impetuous as an interpreter and his high notes lack the necessary brightness to pierce through when he has a big orchestra behind him. In any case, he sang elegantly and let Michelle DeYoung’s feline Kundry take center stage. I’ve seen this American mezzo-soprano a couple of times and have always found her good, but this evening she really wowed me. Other than bringing sexy back to Kundry with her fruity, rich voice that takes very easily to mezza voce, she masters as very few mezzos either live or in recordings the ability of producing big dramatic high notes. The closing of second act found her entirely in control – and that was something new for me in the theater. Moreover, she is an intelligent, charismatic performer who knows how to produce the thrill of the stage in a concert performance. In that sense, she was finely matched by Evgeny Nikitin’s intense Amfortas. There have been more varied performers of this role, but the Russian bass-baritone brings out the tormented side of this character quite vividly. In a couple of moments, he forced his high notes a bit, but even that worked out in his intense approach to the role. And it doesn’t hurt that his voice flashes out in the auditorium. The other Russian in the cast, Dimitry Ivaschenko, sang the part of Titurel and proved to have an unbelievably big voice. In particularly strong voice this evening, Eike Wilm Schulte was a venomous Klingsor. Small roles were cast from strength with the likes of Clemens Bieber and Tuomas Pursio, but it was the Rundfunkchor Berlin who got the biggest applause of the evening.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers