lundi 30 mai 2011

Concert Hall acoustics

Have a look at the lively blog of the Orchestre de Paris. It is in French but contains a very smart comment on the acoustics of the Vienna Musikverein: "One can hear every instrument, even in a fortissimo ... " (my translation ...).

This is a very important point raised by Christian Leblé..With the improvement of the Salle Pleyel, resident orchestras like the Orchestre de Paris and the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique dramatically improved their coherence, dynamic range and overall balance. On the other hand, I was living in London when the LSO moved fro the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican and felt that something broke. Unfortunately, this can work both ways, up and down.

The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande which I cover for concertonet plays in Victoria Hall. It is a charming concert hall but a very narrow one where tuttis are muddled. It works fine say for a Chamber ensemble but saturates for a Mahler Symphony.

In such conditions, Orchestras cannot improve and it is no surprise that good orchestras thrive in superlative acoustics (Boston, Amsterdam ...).

jeudi 19 mai 2011

Mason Bates in Chicago

I was glad to read from Andrew Partner's excellent Chicago based blog that Mason Bates is performed by the CSO and R Muti.

As per my previous post, this is a composer of talent and it is encouraging to read that he is being performed. We also need to hear his works in Europe but like new technology, things takes time to cross the oceans and reach the old world.

mercredi 18 mai 2011


Peter Davis in the NYT has an article on Mahler's time in New York.Universal edition is as usual a gold mine of fascinating information.

But for us in Geneva, Valery Gergiev and the LSO celebrated May 18 by playing the adagio of the 10th Symphony (as a substitution for a Mozart oboe concerto with an indisposed soloist) and gave a truly moving performance.

For another type of Mahler performance, Arte has put on the web another outstanding performance of the same work by the Berlin Phil and Abbado along with Das Lied with AS Von Otter and J Kaufmann. Gergiev led a more dramatic reading of the work (and the Berlin strings have slightly better intonation than the LSO if I may). A good example being at 36 mn where Abbado's last pizzicato is gentle whereas it was more menacing with Gergiev but rather than putting one versus the other, it emphasizes how much Mahler music can accommodate different approaches and how this has become part of all everyone respective musical worlds universally.

lundi 9 mai 2011

Levine-less Walküre at the Met

I was all of last week in the US and was able on my way back to Switzerland to catch the second instalment of the new production of the Ring at the Met. I did not go there (and spend significant sums of money) to see the visual pyrotechnics of Robert Lepage but to hear James Levine's special way with Wagner.

... which explains my disappointment to read in the program that Levine was sick and was replaced by his assistant Derrick Inouye. There had been already a number of runs of the work under Levine so one can safely imagine that there were many touches from Levine himself that remained. A good example was the piano tones of Bryn Terfel for Wotan's farewell, long-lined and adapted to the Welsh baritone style and power. There were also however a couple of moments where Levine's unique togetherness was not there. Sieglinde's phrase upon the stunning redemption leitmotive was in place but Levine would have been totally at once with the singer. He is simply the best accompanist ever.May I finally say again how such a superlative ensemble the Met orchestra can be. Of all Opera Orchestras around the world, they are second to none and could easily sustain comparison with their Viennese colleagues.

Yet one has to realise what enormous efforts and stress this must have been for Inouye to take over at such short notice. This is not a simple work and the evening proceeded with no major hiccup which is quite something. So I was on the one hand disappointed that Levine was not there but if we had had this say in Geneva, I would have been bowled over.

Needless to say, this is a concern that Levine is really sick. We do not know what it could mean for his future engagements but the Met seems genuinely to care for him and be ready to accommodate for potential cancellations. In Europe, there would have been reactions from the public. At the Met, everyone I spoke has admitted that this is not the first nor the last and that his appearances are "worth the disappointments".

Singing was uneven. The Fricka of Stephanie Blythe was a disappointment: she was a notes-generating machine but no line and no sense for the words. Eva Maria Westbroek was uneven, a little flat in places and with some German words which were a little unclear, thus hurting the lines but she had some moments with nice phrasing. I just hope that she is not doing "too much" but my best memory of her remains as Krysothemis in Paris in 2005.

Is Deborah Voigt fit for Brünnhilde ? She has lost some weight and was in few places a little flat. She also may not have the sheer power required for the beginning of Act 3. Beyond this, she understands the text and when not overpowered has colors on the voice. Not an ideal Brünnhilde but definitely a singer that should sing the part.

Hans-Peter Koenig was a dark sounding Hunding who was really nasty and menacing. Kaufmann gave what has been at least for me, his best incarnation to date. Whereas I find that he can be too artistic in Italian roles, he was at ease with a long ringing Wälse, beautiful phrasing and dramatic spirit in particular act 2. He deservedly brought the house down. Terfel like Voigt may not have all the power required for the role but compensates by subtle singing. Words are crystal clear and he understands them deeply.

A final comment on Lepage's much vaulted staging. The settings and videos effects are original and beautiful and impressive, most of all the Act 1 snow storm and the ring of fire at the end. Yet, there is no Personen-Regie in between some visual pictures. It is difficult to say that this is an improvement over the traditional (old-fashioned ?) Schenck production which also was weak on characterisation. But you know what, in the end, I found myself closing my eyes, opening them from tie to time and feeling that not much had changed and concentrating on this outstanding work.