Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Das geht nicht vorwärts

Grafenegg Auditorium, 04/09/2011

Prélude, 16:30: Florian Boesch (Krenek), HK Gruber (Weill & Eisler), István Mátyás (piano)

Krenek: ‘Motiv’ from the Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, op. 62
Weill: Berlin im Licht
Krenek: ‘Wetter’, ‘Unser Wein’, ‘Alpenbewohner’ from the Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, op. 62
Eisler: Ballade von den Säckeschmeißern
Weill: Die Muschel von Margate

Ian Bostridge, HK Gruber (conductor), Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich

Britten: Our Hunting Fathers, op. 8

Hauptkonzert, 19:00: Angelika Kirchschlager, Ian Bostridge, Johannes Chum, Klemens Sander, Florian Boesch, HK Gruber (conductor), Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich

Gruber: Northwind Pictures
Gruber: Dancing in the Dark, Konzertstück für großes Orchester
Weill: Die sieben Todsünden


When Grafenegg pulls out the stops, or, more cynically, when the orchestra performing has tour repertoire to rehearse, the 16:30 ‘Prélude’ is as much an event as the main concert. Florian Boesch sang some selections from Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, which I heard earlier this year at the Konzerthaus and was happy to hear again, the Weltuntergang number (‘Alpenbewohner’) being as powerful as I remembered and leading to thoughts that he really should record this cycle. I have more time for Nali Gruber’s Ernst Busch tribute act than most, but his Weill and Eisler songs were interpolated with the Krenek and the contrasts, a good few of them forced by both singers, were too much for the styles of all three composers. A touch of jollity to Boesch’s ‘Wetter’ was at odds with the music and all too obviously contrived to follow Gruber’s boisterous ‘Berlin im Licht’, while, looking for a moment as taken aback as the audience following the climax of  ‘Alpenbewohner’, Gruber launched into a stern and overly laboured rendition of Eisler’s Säckeschmeißern-Lied.

The second half was devoted to the Austrian premiere of Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers, connected to the rest of the programme, or so Gruber argued, through Auden’s translation of Die sieben Todsünden. Ian Bostridge was impressively solid, much more focused and not half as fussily refined as I expected. He struggled against an orchestral din never less than mf with surprisingly little strain – though his facial expression, not without justification, was set to passive-aggressive throughout – and the technical demands of tricky passagework and high tessitura posed no problem. A strong performance of some Britten juvenilia that could stand to be programmed more often.

The same balance problems afflicted the evening performance, and Gruber might have recognized that the auditorium acoustic was designed to make the Wiener Philharmoniker’s Beethoven and Bruckner symphonies sound good to the exception of almost everything else. His modest gift for conducting didn’t help matters, with gestures limited to hand tremors for more, well, of anything really. The Tonkünstler took these to mean volume and consequently ruined Die sieben Todsünden and every other piece on the programme.

Some very fine singing got lost in this cacophony. Florian Boesch projected the best and did much with the little text he had, in a drag role usually played just for laughs. The three tenors were only audible in the a cappella number (‘Völlerei’), which was messy, strained and out of tune, though not through any fault of their own; they’d been thoroughly deafened by this point and besides, Gruber was pushing the tempo to ridiculous levels. ‘Wehe, wenn sie ein Gramm zunimmt’ had to be thrown away, quite unnecessarily, and a futile attempt was made to salvage the silly passage (‘Hörnchen! Schnitzel! Spargel! Hühnchen!’) mocking Anna’s gluttonous appetite.

Leftish fare like Todsünden and Die Dreigroschenoper is core rep for people’s soprano Angelika Kirchschlager, and though I couldn’t catch much more than snatches there seemed to be plenty of her beguiling lyric mezzo above and below the break, with Sprechstimme on just a few notes – and in places where Lenya didn’t do it, which made things interesting. Anna I was characterized as a bad girl infinitely more fun to hang out with than Anna II, which shows that Kirchschlager has read her Marcuse, but I wasn’t too convinced, despite not really caring about Brecht’s undercut intentions. When she looked up with an air of injured innocence at the accusation of ‘verfressen’ in Völlerei it all seemed a bit put on.

The Weill was preceded by two Gruber works, Dancing in the Dark and Northwind Pictures. Attempts have been made to reattach the label to the likes of Beat Furrer and Olga Neuwirth, but for years Gruber, Kurt Schwertsik and to a much lesser extent Friedrich Cerha were identified as the leading exponents of the so-called Third Viennese School, having fashioned an eclectic idiom given to subversive irreverence and a vulgarity peculiar to the off-beat toilet humour of certain Viennese literary circles (Cerha once set to music a poem about Johann Strauss shitting in his grave). Gruber is the most riotous of the three, as anyone who has experienced a live Frankenstein!! will attest, and there wasn’t much more to that to Northwind Pictures, an arrangement of orchestral interludes from his opera of sorts der herr nordwind. Dancing in the Dark, which incidentally has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen, saves its silliness for the end – a Wagner tuba foxtrot, which didn’t fail to deliver on the double take promised by Nali in the pre-concert lecture.

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