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CLASSICAL  June 2009

CLASSICAL June 2009

Subject:

May in Germany

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 13 Jun 2009 15:49:24 -0700

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text/plain

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While in Germany all of last month, on vacation with my wife in
celebration of our fourtieth anniversary, I attended eight musical events,
concerts and operas, half in Berlin and the others in Munich, Weimar and
Goettingen.  The concerts were more generally to my taste than the operas,
some of which had edgy concept productions, and I am not about to write
full reviews of any of them, but perhaps a few impressions might be of
interest.

For me, the most exciting of the concerts included a performance of
Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, along with Schoenberg's Erwartung, Ingo
Metzmacher conducting the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, in the
Philharmonie on May 27.  Metzmacher, the Music Director of this orchestra,
has a strong interest in 20th century music.  The soloists in the Mahler
were Christianne Stotijn, mezzosoprano and Stephen Gould, tenor.  He was
strong and her singing was enormously expressive, unaffected, and moving.
From where I was sitting I could see vividly as well as hear what she
was putting into this performance.  Angela Denoke was the soprano in
Erwartung and she also gave a strong and apt performance in this
Expressionist work, earning strong audience approbation.  I could not
help thinking how unlikely I am ever to hear a performance of this in
Milwaukee where I mostly am able to attend concerts.

In Munich we heard Marin Alsop conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra in
its '6th Academy Concert' in the Nationaltheater on May 18.  James Ehnes
was the soloist in Barber's Violin Concerto.  Also on the program were
Brahms' Haydn Variations and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances.  This was
the first time I have heard Ehnes who, I recall, has a strong partisan
on this list.  His performance was excellent if perhaps a tad restrained
(though not to the excessive degree I find Hahn's recorded performance.)
The Rachnaminoff Symphonic Dances is not a work I have ever cared for
previously.  Under Alsop's baton, though, I found myself actually liking
it for the first time.  The phrasing was strikingly clear and the dance
rhythms came to life for me.  The Brahms piece I have always liked and
it sounded good on this occasion.

Another Berlin concert was by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, conducted
by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky in a program of the Prokofiev 5th Symphony and
the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony.  The venue was the old Berlin concert hall,
with a large statue of Schiller in the square in front of it, in what
was East Berlin.  It is a smaller hall than the Philharmonie and that
fact, I think, was to the detriment of the Prokofiev which was just plain
too loud, especially in the first movement.  To be sure, it is meant to
be loud and the orchestration includes a very large percussion battery,
including here the largest Chinese gong I have ever seen (except perhaps
one in a Milwaukee shop called Artasia which I made a point of striking
recently).  But I wish that the conductor had controlled the dynamics
better.  The Tchaikovsky was fine.

In Goettingen, one of three university towns we visited, I happened
on an international Handel festival.  In the 'Aula' of the university
on May 25 there was a chamber concert with three viola da gambas, continuo
and soprano.  The best thing about the concert was an exceptionally
satisfying soprano named Monica Piccinini, who sang two cantatas, one
by Handel, the other by Ferrandini, a composer I was unaware of.  Piccinini
has a strong, clear voice and she sings without any artificial mannerisms,
which is especially refreshing in music of that period.  I would listen
to her any time.  What we unfortunately had to listen to also--after the
concert was supposed to begin--was at least ten minutes of tuning,
especially of one note on an organ and then of the string instruments.
Couldn't they have taken care of this before?  There was also an extremely
unimpressive work by Johann Michael Nicolai (1629-1685) but the devoted
audience seemed to like it.  OPERAS.

At the Deutsche Oper in Berlin - that's the one in what had been West
Berlin, with Donald Runnicles as General Music Director) we attended
Eugene Onegin and Tannhauser.  The singing was very good in both and the
productions were pretty much inoffensive, although in the Tannhaeuser
it was odd to see a couple of dozen armored knights raised from the floor
up to the flies, from which they sometimes descended partially, so it
looked like they were being hanged.  I had never seen Tannhaeuser before,
though for some reason unknown to me, when I was in the sixth grade I
was assigned to write a report on its story.  In view of Wagner's personal
life, the libretto is puzzling, as far as I am concerned - why should
visiting the Venusberg be a transgression so unforgiveable as to incur
the curse of a pope?!  In Weimar we attended a distasteful production
of Turandot.  Singing was good.  The soprano in the title role was really
strong but her character was exceptionally cruel; dressed in black, she
tormented the unfortunate loser of a prince in the opening scene, dragging
him with a rope and cutting his throat with her own hands.  Her courtiers
wielded golf clubs, with which they batted around the head.  Dramatically,
the ending did not work; Turandot cackled like a stereotypical witch
when Calaf revealed his name and after he kisses her they rolled on the
ground in sheer lust.  Not the kind of display one expects of royalty.

In Munich we saw Der Fliegende Hollaender, with Bryn Terfel--who did not
disappoint-- in the title role, with a production by Peter Konwitschny
who, according to the publicity evokes either delight or loathing and
who in the opinion of a dear relative who is an opera buff, produces
'Eurotrash.' The delight/loathing part was a second act set in a modern
exercise salon, with dozens of brightly clad young women on exercycles.
The production in the other acts was rugged/traditional.

Jim Tobin

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