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Like clockwork

Royal Albert Hall
08/02/2002 -  

Enrique Granados: Goyescas
Maurice Ravel: L'heure espagnole

Angela Marambio (Rosario), Sarah Connolly (Pepa/Conceptión), Marius Brenciu (Fernando), Brett Polegato (Paquiro/Ramiro), Charles Castronovo (Gonzalve), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Torquemada), Peter Rose (Don Inigo Gomez)|

Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)

BBC Singers, BBC Philharmonic


Johan Sebastian Bach: St Matthew Passion

John Mark Ainsley (Evangelist), Michael Volle (Christus), Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Susan Gritton (soprano), Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Werner Güra (tenor), Stephan Loges (baritone), Brindley Sherratt (bass)

Trevor Pinnock (conductor)

Choristers of Southwark Cathedral, Choir of the English Concert, New London Chamber Choir, English Concert


Arnold Schönbert: Gurrelieder

Christine Brewer (Tove), Jon Villars (Waldemar), Petra Land (Wood-Dove), Philip Langridge (Klaus), Peter Sidhom (Peasant), Ernst Haefliger (Speaker)

Donald Runnicles (conductor)

BBC Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra

The Prom on Friday 2 August offered two more-or-less Spanish short operas. Granados' Goyescas originated as a programmatic piano suite that evokes genre drawings by Goya, to whose melodies Fernando Periquet back-engineered a libretto under Granados' direction. The result could be seen as an early precursor of the Rake's progress, except that it is slightly more human and a lot less artful. A comparatively sophisticated knockoff of Carmen might also be a fair description, although the skeletal but sensational plot and the rather spare dialogue have authentic Spanish antecedents, starting perhaps with La Celestina and certainly recalling some episodes in picaresque novels.

The whole work, in fact, is decidedly academic in both its music and its overall conception. A pretty good cast and the BBC Singers as the rather verbose chorus gave it plenty of welly, but couldn't get much out of it. Angela Marambio, a young Chilean soprano, was luscious as the noble lady with whom the low-life Paquiro falls in love. Her duet with the flute-nightingale was pure and lovely, romantic without being overblown. Brent Polegato was relentlessly butch as Paquiro, Sarah Connolly was hard-edged but not exactly passionate as Pepa, his just dumped girlfriend, and Marius Brenciu sang sweetly but without much character as Fernando, Rosario's betrothed, who is killed in a duel with Paquiro. The BBC Symphony Orchestra had more of a chance with the music, in a new orchestration by Albert Guinovert.

Ravel was famously sexless, and the fabliau of L'heure espagnole never really gets down and dirty. Instead the tale of the clockmaker's wife who has an hour to enjoy herself with her lovers is a work of fine musical engineering, with the various arrivals and departures as intricately and perfectly timed as the initial evocation of the clocks in the clockmaker's shop. (Tchaikovsky got much more low comedy out of a similar situation with the witch's lovers in Cherevichki.) Sarah Connolly was more at home with sharp character of Conceptión, the naughty wife, while Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (perhaps inevitably) outacted everyone else as her dim husband, and was very funny indeed. Brent Polegato was butch again as Ramiro, the mule-driver who seems to be getting in the way of Conceptión's fun until he turns out to be more serviceable than her lovers. Charles Castronovo was wonderfully preening as the self-absorbed poet who won't shut up and get stuck in. Peter Rose was good and blustering as the old buffoon who gets stuck in a clock and probably can't deliver anyway.

The performance of the St Matthew Passion on 4 August was more of a known quantity. As one of Trevor Pinnock's last performances with his English Concert, it was an occasion, but this was about as middle of the road as you could get. There were a fairly large double choir and ripiena, a medium sized orchestra of period instruments and an almost full complement of soloists (two of each except for the tenor). Pinnock led a performance that sounded expansive, though not overblown, but which came in half an hour earlier than the advertised finish. It was all a bit cerebral, making every aspect of the contrasts between drama and reflection clear rather than being dramatic and reflective in turn.

John Mark Ainsley's lucid Evangelist could also be described as cerebral, though the Evangelist's detachment is essential to allow him to continue to narrate and respond to the overwhelming events of Christ's passion. Michael Volle was a resonant but understated Christus. The soloists were all pretty good. Carolyn Sampson and Susan Gritton were both first rate in the soprano arias. Stephan Loges was full of controlled power in the choir two bass arias.

A week earlier, Donald Runnicles made a fair bid to take over from Leonard Slatkin as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra with a perversely euphoric performance of Gurrelieder. He seemed to be letting the massive orchestra and choir have their heads enough to enact the romantic danger of the work, which became less of an exercise in Wagnerian total art than it looks on paper. Jon Villars was a deceptively sweet Waldemar who only occasionally lost to the orchestra. Christine Brewer was a rather conventional Tove, but then the lovers really are a pretty conventional pair while they are alive, singing old-fashioned Lieder against a gigantic symphonic background. Petra Lang was glorious and heartbreaking as the Wood-Dove, in the music that best integrates voice and orchestra. Peter Sidhom was a splendidly grotesque peasant, straight out of Breughel, and Philip Langridge was similarly spot on as the mocking Klaus. The veteran Swiss tenor Ernst Haefliger looked as if it was past his bedtime until he started speaking. His performance too belonged in a picturesque world on the boundary of fairy tale and gothic.

HE Elsom



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