Friday, 16 September 2011

Theater an der Wien Eröffnungskonzert

Theater an der Wien, 13/09/2011

Tobias Moretti, Karl Markovics, Michael Maertens, Christine Schäfer
Klangforum Wien, Michael Boder

Stravinsky: Histoire du Soldat (in German)
Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21

‘Namedropping vom Feinsten’. Thus reported tabloid Österreich, somewhat breathlessly, about ‘die drei großen „Ms“ der Schauspielkunst’ on the bill at Tuesday night’s Theater an der Wien season opener. Karl Markovics, who starred in Die Fälscher and the altogether more questionable Mahler auf der Couch (playing Freud), is the only name likely to register outside of Austria. Tobias Moretti and Michael Maertens are both experienced Burgtheater regulars in a town where that means something. The three Ms acted the life out of the speaking parts in The Soldier’s Tale and, as much as I love the Burgtheater, left me longing for jobbing actors who wouldn’t have drawn so much attention from the music. I had to double-check that Michael Maertens wasn’t playing Lucky in the Burgtheater’s upcoming Waiting for Godot, so jumpy and bizarrely-voiced was his devil in disguise. Tobias Moretti should have been advised in rehearsal that speaking over the music does not require wildly erratic Sprechstimme. Markovics’ soldier was more bearable, but the sense remained of all three stealing the show and reducing the score to incidental music.

Conductor Michael Boder was the model of Stravinskian passivity, beating time precisely and at the indicated speed, and presumably hoping the music would take care of itself (to paraphrase Robert Craft). There was some strong cornet playing from an instrument which looked and sounded as if it had been sourced from the Concentus Musicus Wien, and the Grand Chorale had depth. But while the Klangforum Wien never turns in a bad performance, the playing elsewhere was workmanlike and the Danse du diable failed to make much of an impression.

Pierrot Lunaire was a quite different tale. I fear it will be some time before I hear this score performed again with such perception and apparent ease. Two solos that are difficult to play well deserve to be singled out: cello in the Serenade and flute in Der kranke Mond. Small details were equally absorbing, including the ex nihilo opening to Nacht, the balance achieved in Eine blasse Wäscherin, and the perfectly synchronised decay of the pizzicato arpeggio passed between cello and violin in Heimfahrt, as if plucked by the same steady finger. Painstaking attention was paid to Schoenberg’s markings and their extreme demands: I strained to hear the flute’s triplet figure in Der kranke Mond, which is as it should be (Schoenberg marks this pppp); it was brought out only slightly more prominently when recalled in Enthauptung. Michael Boder’s conducting was much less metrical than in the Stravinsky, and while I suspect that nearly all of the ideas came from the musicians he did nothing to get in the way. He could, however, have insisted that the pauses between the movements – stipulated with Mahlerian exactitude in the score – be observed.
The excellence of the playing distracted me from Christine Schäfer, who was very good despite a feeling of déjà vu that set in halfway through Colombine. This was an unmistakeable carbon copy of her acclaimed Pierrot committed to disc with Boulez and the Ensemble intercontemporain. There is no reason why Pierrot Lunaire should not work in the Theater an der Wien, particularly given the clarity of Schäfer’s Sprechstimme, but the recalibration required for a theatre acoustic was completely lacking and the intimacy of that recording didn’t transfer well. Schäfer’s is one of the few competent Pierrots around, but playing it safe made this performance a lot less compelling than it could have been. 
Image credit VBW / Paul Ott

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