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All-Berlin style !

Grosses festpielhaus
04/12/2003 -  13 - 22 April
Beethoven : Fidelio
Bruckner : Eighth Symphony

Fidelio : Angela Denocke (Leoneore), John Villars (Florestan), Juilanne Banse (Marzelline), Laszlo Polgar (Rocco), Alan Held (Pizarro), Rainer Trost (Jaquino), Thomas Quasthoff (Fernando)
Nikolaus Lenhoff (director), Raimund Bauer (sets)
Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
Bruckner : Bernard Haitink (conductor)
Berliner Philarmoniker

Was Sir Simon’s first Easter Festival edition especially set for his orchestra ? One could suspect it, since the whole programm sounded like a huge tribute to the Berliner skills in austrian and german music : Haydn, Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler in a short week, plus the world Premiere of a piece commissioned to Heiner Goebbels ! Bruckner’s Eight, conducted by Bernard Haitink, was especially impressive with its combination of quite slow tempi, classical elegance and deep density of sound – organ-like colour of the strings, enlightened virtuosity of the winds, though the brass have sometimes been in better shape. Shall one regret the expressionist approach cherished by other maestri ? It nevertheless formed a fascinating contrast with Rattle’s Beethoven, moreover with Fidelio, fed by the conductor and performers experiments in the field of “authentic” playing. Maybe because Rattle had studied the work wit a period instrument orchestra, and that the Berliner themselves welcomed some baroque specialists this season, there was something particularly uncommon in this chamber-like narration opening little by little to the full symphonic scale, virtuoso rubato, polyphonic mastery and solistic splendor (wonderful oboe in Florestan’a aria) leaving aside the pale leading couple. Angela Denocke cannot sing the title-role, being regularly out of tone and breath (but the actress is intelligent and beautiful), and John Villars disappears under Florestan tricky part. But Juliane Banse and Rainer Trost form a lavishing non-lovers pair, and the two male basses were equally impressive (especially Alan Held), while Thomas Quasthoff was making his first steps on an operatic stage in the cameo part of Don Fernando. Nikolaus Lenhoff and Raimund Bauer presented a stylish production, sometimes a bit cold, sometimes deeply moving – the quartet, the prisoners chorus. Cutting the dialogues seemed a great source of irritation for many in the audience ; if it worked quite well from a theatrical angle, getting closer tonalities that were not conceived to be chained together didn’t seem such a good idea musically.
Next year, French music, Bartok, Mozart and… singers take the lead, bringing back the orchestra to the pit (which was a bit high by the way in Fidelio, and didn’t allow an ideal balance with the voices). But let’s hope to find as many jewels in it as in this all-orchestra feast !

Franck Chevalier



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