Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dominique Meyer, Nichtsenfhauer

Waiting in my postbox this evening was Stretta, the monthly magazine of the Friends of the Wiener Staatsoper. It’s a modest publication that’s good mainly for the event tips – radio, TV and live – printed in the back pages. The only contributor worth reading is president of the Friends Karl Korinek, who can’t write anything critical or unsupportive, so instead contorts his discontent into amusingly slippery, Waldheim-like formulations. Commenting on the recent contract extensions for Dominique Meyer (until 2020) and Franz Welser-Möst (until 2018 with the option to extend for a further two years), Korinek has the obligatory nice things to say about both, but reading between the lines it all comes down to this juxtaposition:

On Welser-Möst
It is particularly pleasing that Franz Welser-Möst’s artistic leadership of the Staatsoper will continue. His presence on the podium in recent years has led to exceptional evenings of opera. [...] The orchestra is playing on a level we have rarely heard since Karajan’s time.
On Meyer
We wish Dominique Meyer much success in the next few years, for in a house that lays claim to being world-class there are always things which one can do better.


Tuesday, 28 February 2012

All that glitters is not gold

Konzerthaus, 26/02/2012
Cameron Carpenter, organ

Grainger: Colonial Song (arr. Carpenter)


Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540
Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542
Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541

Liszt: Fantasy and Fugue on the choral ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, S 259

Prior to this concert I’d seen Cameron Carpenter perform once before, strangely enough at his Juilliard graduation recital – I was in New York at the time and Paul Jacobs, his teacher and America’s best home-grown organist, had remarked to me something along the lines of ‘we don’t know what we’re hatching here, but in five years he’ll be everywhere’. It was obvious then he wasn’t destined for a staid career in the organ loft, his life measured out in scintillating discussions about wind pressures and the ideal recipe for caraway seed cake, but, moderated by Juilliard-imposed discipline, the flamboyance he is now notorious for had something fresh and unusual going for it – a strongly individual style with questioning independence of mind. So what happened?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Onegin in Bratislava: nothing to be done

Yevgeny Onegin
Slovak National Theatre, 25/02/2012

Onegin | Pavol Remenár
Tatiana | Adriana Kohútková
Lensky | Aleš Briscein
Olga | Monika Fabianová
Gremin | Gustáv Beláček
Larina | Eva Šeniglová
Monsieur Triquet | Ivan Ožvát

Conductor | Jaroslav Kyzlink
Director | Peter Konwitschny

Co-production with the Oper Leipzig (Leipzig premiere 1995, Bratislava premiere 2005)

With carefully rehearsed Personenregie this Onegin was, again, a Slovak National Theatre revival Peter Konwitschny would recognize, and yet, for all its interesting characterization and signature Musik-inszenieren, he didn’t bundle this and his nuanced understanding of Werktreue together with the same dialectical rigour his Butterfly Konzept achieved.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

So nice he sold out the Konzerthaus twice

Martin Grubinger (with the Wiener Philharmoniker)
Martin Grubinger may be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting percussion virtuosi, but for my money his greatest strengths are pianistic: the rich density of timbre he gets from his instruments (which are mainly the marimba and xylophone), the gift for turning an eloquent phrase, and the seamless legato that comes from sensitive touch and a finely-tuned ear for decay. His wife Ferzan and her twin sister Ferhan Önder share these qualities in their piano playing, turning graceful phrases while applying the minimum of weight.

This was no less than the fourth Martin Grubinger concert I’ve seen this season, so it was good to finally write something about him. Fourth because he’s a Pubiklumsliebling who has his own Abo at the Konzerthaus (which will continue next year), though I did see him make his debut with the Wiener Phiharmoniker at the Musikverein a few months ago. Work was really busy in the days after that, and as Grubinger was playing the new Cerha percussion concerto I didn’t want just to put down any old thoughts on paper. But I was impressed, and the Philharmoniker liked him, which perhaps isn’t as rare as I’m inclined to think, and really showed it, which probably is. This concert was a bit more mixed: the Önders weren’t overpowered too much in an otherwise excellent Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion, but if the best-intentioned effort – which this was – strips Le Sacre of so much, I’m not sure I ever want to hear another arrangement of it again. To the I-could-have-told-youzzz: having played and studied it, I get a lot out of Erwin Stein’s Mahler 4 transcription, OK? That there’s so much detail you don’t normally hear in an orchestral performance is a scary indictment of how poorly this symphony gets conducted nowadays. But this Grubinger Rite didn’t compensate for what it took away in colour and sonority with new insights. One thing I didn't mention was that ostinato accompaniments started too loudly and had nowhere to go, but if you click through to read the full review, you’ll see I thought it was all a bit cacophonous (which isn’t like Grubinger at all).

I’ve seen much strange behaviour from Grubinger’s female fans in Vienna (groupies aged 15 to 85) and this concert was no exception. Looking up from her programme before the Stravinsky, the elderly lady sat next to me saw that Grubinger was still readying his sticks and remarked ‘Der süße Junge spielt noch im Ställchen!’, which I smiled at wryly until she started licking her lips.

On a less disturbing note, I went to the afternoon performance the Konzerthaus added, which ended a few minutes before 18:00 (repeated at 19:30). The Stravinsky looked exhausting to play so I have no idea where they found the energy.

And lastly, check out Grubinger’s ‘Rudiments’ solo, so named because apparently Mozarteum percussion students have to learn these tricks (I think not). I saw him give this an as encore at the Phil concert, which an audience member put up on Youtube, though the A/V isn’t so great (also note EIGHT empty seats at a subscription concert). It must have come from the Sunday morning concert, because on Saturday afternoon he dropped a stick and carried on playing while he produced another from his back pocket. Here it is in better quality:

Image credit: Roland Schlager / APA

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hilary Hahn pwns Schoenberg’s violin concerto

Highly recommended
A performance without self-expression was unthinkable for Schoenberg and yet he was prone to dismissing the results, to use his own wording, as ‘deviating’ from his ‘direct orders’. During his lifetime even ensembles he admired greatly, such as the Kolisch Quartet, didn’t escape uncriticized. But I think Hahn may have pleased: sharp edges were smoothed off while remaining true to Schoenberg’s angular articulacy, each phrase was a poetic idea – in the Schoenbergian sense – without being too self-contained, and the work’s technical demands were met with unshowy ease – no mean feat for one of the most difficult concertos in the repertoire which, according to the Schoenberg anecdote you choose to believe, requires either a sixth left hand finger or a lengthening of the fourth. Hahn stopped short of embracing Schoenberg the stylistic post-Romantic – her tone row, as Schoenberg wished, was too understated for that – and knowing this score in all its serial detail, I could only admire her understanding of the structural strides Schoenberg makes with the twelve-tone technique in this concerto, some of them looking forwards, some back.
I’m putting Hilary Hahn’s Schoenberg up with Jean-Yve Thibaudet’s Liszt as a candidate for the concerto performance of the season so far. Do click through to Bachtrack to read more about this unusual programme (well, unusual for the Musikverein). As my nom de plume et blog should indicate, I quite like Schoenberg – though for sheer infectious enthusiasm about the große Entdecker I can’t hold a candle to Hahn. Knowing she was active on Youtube I checked out her channel for Schoenberg, though not quite expecting to find all this:

‘Here we go, erm, I’m Hilary and these are Schoenbergs behind me’:

Hahn answers questions posed by Schoenberg to violinist Louis Krasner in a 1945 letter:

And as charmingly kooky as this is, I’m slightly disappointed it isn’t twelve-tone:

Das Klangforum schafft's wieder

Olga Neuwirth’s ... miramondo multiplo ... was one of the two highlights of the evening. Neuwirth at her best – the collaborations with Elfriede Jelinek and chamber work gems such as Quasare/Pulsare come to mind – is the most significant Austrian composer of her generation, but even a less seriously intended piece like ... miramondo multiplo ... puts a depth of intellect and meaning between itself and the irreverent ‘Third Viennese School’ of HK Gruber and Kurt Schwertsik, from which a part of its inspiration is derived. That this piece was originally programmed at the end of the concert and then moved to before the interval made for interesting proximity with the Boulez; echoes abounded, not only of ... explosante-fixe ..., but also Répons and Pli selon pli.
I don’t have much to add to this review of the Klangforum Wien’s most recent concert, which you can read in full here. This extract is taken from towards the end, as the first paragraph is simply an introductory Liebesbrief to the Klangforum (albeit a well-deserved one). ‘One of the world’s finest contemporary music ensembles’ is putting it with restraint; ensembles like the London Sinfonietta, brilliant as they are, are great at expression and advocacy, but often lack the Klangforum’s discipline. The Ensemble intercontemporain are untouchable with anything that comes out of IRCAM, but aside from that aren’t the most versatile of groups and I harbour reservations about their Webern. Anyway, this is all tending towards the dangerously chauvinistic ‘we do it like nobody else’ Kulturnation BS – though how ironic that the Klangforum never gets a mention in that discourse – so I’ll stop there. Plus, if you live in New York you can experience the ensemble for yourselves in April – Alex Ross already does a great job of plugging Austrian Cultural Forum events, but here’s another plug anyway: two concerts on the 18th and 19th will mark 10 years of the ACFNY, the special significance being that the Klangforum inaugurated the venue on 18th April 2002. The programme is the same for both evenings and includes Kurtág, Staud, Sciarrino and a new work by Agata Zubel. Details can be found here.

Olga Neuwirth image credit: Sebastian Hoppe

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Uchida: D 958, 959, 960

Sadly not like this
Musikverein, 14/02/2012

Schubert: Piano Sonatas in C minor, A major, B flat major, D 958-60

To put a question which occupied my thoughts for much of this recital in the bluntest of terms: can someone please explain to me what has happened to Mitsuko Uchida? Prior to yesterday evening, which was rather a mess, with muddy, imprecise, mannered playing, I hadn’t seen her in recital for three or four years, when she was her usual outstanding self. Let us hope it was merely an off night.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Nina Stemme brings the Stimme

Two of the world’s most sought-after opera singers giving Lieder recitals on the same night. The kind of painful choice which Viennese musical institutions and their chaotic schedules throw up all too regularly. I went for Nina Stemme over Jonas Kaufmann on the basis that she gives fewer solo recitals, despite harbouring reservations about how her big voice would fare in this repertoire. Her long, expressive phrases and perceptive grasp of musical line dispelled many of those doubts, but the size of her instrument – Stemme made her name with big Wagner and Strauss roles – overwhelmed a few items on the programme.

A slightly mixed reaction to Nina Stemme at the Konzerthaus last night, but unless Matti Hirvonen were accompanying I’d gladly hear another Lieder recital from her. The image represents the voice she was in more or less all evening. You’d think Weill’s Johnny would know better than to mess with a girl like that. The Dudley Moore parody I mention in my review, which you can read in full here, is highly amusing and embedded along with ‘Little Miss Britten’ below.

Image credit: Cory Weaver

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Wiener Staatsoper makes Faustian bargain with Schlamperei

Wiener Staatsoper, 10/02/2012
Gounod: Faust

Jonas Kaufmann | Faust

Inva Mula | Marguerite
Albert Dohmen | Méphistophélès
Adrian Eröd | Valentin
Juliette Mars | Siébel
Monika Bohinec | Marthe

Alain Altinoglu | Conductor
Nicolas Joel / Stéphane Roche | Director

The Wiener Staatsoper opened a new €8 million rehearsal stage last month, though most of the gossip I've picked up about this so far has only taught me three new German proverbs which, loosely translated, all involve leopards and spots. The space got christened with Botha’s Andrea Chénier, but my source was coy about this Faust and perhaps I should have enquired more closely, though as with laws and sausages it's often preferable to be ignorant about Staatsoper revivals. So aside from perverse instituational unpredictability I’m at a loss as how to account for this performance, which came to substantially more than the sum of its parts and left main attraction Jonas Kaufmann struggling to assert himself.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Staatsoper's Mahagonny: oh, don't ask why

Wiener Staatsoper, 05/02/2012

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (new production)

Elisabeth Kulman | Leocadia Begbick
Angelika Kirchschlager | Jenny Hill
Christopher Ventris | Jimmy Mahoney
Tomasz Konieczny | Dreieinigkeitsmoses
Herwig Pecoraro | Fatty
Norbert Ernst | Jack O’Brien
Clemens Unterreiner | Sparbüchsen Billy
Il Hong | Alaska Wolf Joe
Wolfram Igor Derntl | Toby Higgins
Ileana Tonca, Valentina Nafornita, Ildikó Raimondi, Juliette Mars, Stephanie Houtzeel, Monika Bohinec | Girls
Heinz Zednik | Announcer

Ingo Meztmacher | Conductor
Jérôme Deschamps | Director

With woefully little substance separating this staging from a concert performance with bizarrely awful costumes, the Wiener Staatsoper’s new Mahagonny was a poor effort even for a director who doesn’t understand German, Brechtian theatre, or Weill’s music. Welcome to Dominique Meyer’s Parisian cronies, part 5.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Fate repeating indeterminately

My February highlights lead with Jonas Kaufmann, whose Groundhog month is already underway at the Wiener Staatsoper (two Fausts remain: 7th, 10th). On the 13th and 15th he repeats his Met recital more or less note for note (Liszt, Mahler, Duparc, some changes to the Strauss songs) at the Musikverein and Graz’s Stephaniensaal. Would Dominique Meyer have given his last remaining follicles to have had that Kaufmann Liederabend at the Staatsoper, at the risk of irritating Musikverein Intendant Thomas Angyan even further? It’s hard to say. Roberto Alagna continues the house’s ill-starred series on the 8th and ticket sales have, again, been dreadful, though with the Staatsoper doing nada to promote the event (they also haven’t released any programme details beyond ‘diverse Komponisten’) I’m predicting that this experiment will be quietly put out of its misery at the end of the season.

Friday, 3 February 2012

All-seeing eyes

Here’s a snippet of what I wrote about the Theater an der Wien’s new production of Iolanta/Francesca da Rimini:
Iolanta and Francesca da Rimini work particularly well as a double bill because both works share the theme of lovers who find themselves at the mercy of possessive forces. Iolanta's domineering father ultimately yields in Tchaikovsky's opera, but in Rachmaninov's the deceitful Lanceotto is not so accommodating. In the Theater an der Wien’s new production the emphasis is on storytelling, which director Stephen Lawless does effectively in a straightforward staging of Iolanta and a not unexpected updating of Francesca.
Click through to Bachtrack for more. As Lawless confirms in his dramaturgical note, his Francesca da Rimini was rather predictably inspired by The Lives of OthersFor more photos, follow the jump.