Sunday 31 May 2009

András Schiff Haydn anniversary recital, Wigmore Hall, 31 May 2009

Capriccio in G major, Hob.XVII:1
Piano sonata in G minor, Hob.XVI:44
Fantasia in C major, Hob.XVII:4
Piano sonata in E minor, Hob.XVI:34
Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:6
Piano sonata in E-flat major, Hob.XVI:52

András Schiff (piano)

31 May 2009 marked the two hundredth anniversary of Haydn’s death. This Wigmore Hall commemoration, the final concert in a weekend of chamber music, was devoted to works for piano solo, performed by András Schiff. Schiff’s imagination seemed more obviously fired by some works, or indeed by some movements, than others, although this may have reflected decisions over the ‘public’ or ‘private’ nature of the music. Even if the pianist’s outwardly communicative qualities varied, nothing was less than good, and much was a great deal more than that.

In addition to three sonatas, Schiff selected three other piano pieces, those three works described by James Webster in the New Grove as ‘the most important’ amongst the non-sonata works: two capriccios, in G major and C major, and the great set of double variations in F minor/major. The first of the capriccios is based on a theme from a folk song, Acht Sauschneider müssen sein. Often I find myself bemoaning preciousness in performances of eighteenth-century music, so I was a little surprised here to wonder whether a little more lightness of touch might have been in order. Perhaps this was a matter of having become somewhat accustomed to hearing Schiff on a Bösendorfer; here, the Wigmore Hall Steinway sounded rather forthright. But this was certainly a performance of ‘public’, ‘concert’ music rather than a case of eavesdropping upon a private chamber. Clarification of part writing and, more importantly still, of Haydn’s wide-ranging tonal plan was exemplary. In true freedom lies organisation, perhaps the greatest lesson of modern German musical and intellectual history. The second capriccio was also treated in ‘public’ fashion, but with greater panache – perhaps partly a matter of the musical material itself. Haydn and Schiff delighted in the varied use of the keyboard. Apparent eccentricities, not least the long, held bass notes, were not tamed but nor were they too heavily underlined. Perhaps Schiff’s greatest virtue throughout was to allow the music to speak for itself, although the danger, not always entirely avoided, may then be of anonymity. No such problems here however: there was abundant vitality, sometimes lacking in aspects of the sonata performances. The conclusion was triumphant, a real example of gathering musical threads together and transforming them into something old but new.

The variations, Hob.XVII:6, benefited from an almost wondrously beautiful touch throughout, although the performance sometimes tended towards the matter of fact. Only sometimes, since the repeated version of the opening F minor theme exuded far greater warmth than the first hearing had commanded, and the trills in the first major variation proved both well voiced and an integral, melting part of the melodic line. The voice-leading in the second minor variation looked forward, as it should, to the Romantic writing of Schubert and even Chopin. But there were other occasions when inwardness seemed almost a matter of Schiff speaking to himself; an audience may or may not be desirable but, should it be present, it needs to become part of a conversation. The coda, by contrast, proved highly dramatic, treated to an exemplary performance. In some senses, however, it was a little late; it did not quite grow out of what had come before. These variations are the fruit of development rather than outright contrast. I was left, a little wistfully, recalling Alfred Brendel’s spellbinding Royal Festival Hall performance last year.

What, then, of the sonatas? The first, in G minor, is an exquisite work, which received an exquisite performance. Both movements were underpinned by a strong sense of rhythm. Haydn’s chromaticism in the first almost approaches that of Mozart, but the melodic figurations and textures, as Schiff well understood, could only indicate Haydn, likewise the surprises and C.P.E.Bach-like rhetorical flourishes. Schiff, rightly in my view, presented the second movement Allegretto more as a follow on than a contrast to the opening Moderato. There were times when I wondered whether this account was becoming a little too inward but there could be no doubting the pianist’s identification with the music.

The beauty of Schiff’s touch, allied to unerring musical judgement, also characterised the performance of the E minor sonata. That restless obstinacy of the first movement’s opening was voiced to perfection: somewhere between Scarlatti and Beethoven. This persisted throughout, albeit without becoming unduly relentless. Schiff’s control of the Adagio’s long melodic lines managed to retain a certain improvisatory quality; again, his tonal command was second to none. My only reservation concerns the music of this movement itself, which I find myself unable to consider as Haydn at his most inspired. However, the transition to the finale was perfectly judged, the finale itself a model of style: sometimes insouciant yet careful to acknowledge the compositional depths.

The final work was the great E-flat major sonata, composed for Therese Jansen-Bartolozzi. In this performance, I sensed a microcosm of the public-private dichotomy that characterised the recital as a whole. The first movement seemed a little too neutral, somewhat under-characterised, partly a product of what seemed to me an unduly fast tempo. I should probably add that I almost always find the tempo of this movement too fast, hankering after an Emperor concerto-like grandeur that rarely, if ever, materialises. Still, what some might think undersold, others might find understated. And once again, Schiff’s control of the harmonic structure was faultless. The final chord, however, sounded odd, almost as if he had elected to make it sound more dramatic than had changed his mind and had therefore pulled back, a little late. Schiff’s skill at sustaining long, vocal lines was once again to the fore in the Adagio. This was allied to a far stronger dramatic sense than had been apparent in the first movement, not only at the harmonic climaxes but also in general, in a more sharply etched projection. The finale was a Presto not only in speed but also, more importantly, in its playful mood. Schiff was not afraid to relax on occasion, though never disruptively. He employed ornamentation too – and why not? This was a fine conclusion to the Wigmore Hall’s anniversary tribute.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Znaider/LSO/Davis - Elgar, Stravinsky, and Brahms, 24 May 2009

Barbican Hall

Elgar – Introduction and Allegro for strings, op.47
Stravinsky – Orpheus
Brahms – Violin concerto in D major, op.77

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

Elgar and his music have had a long history with the London Symphony Orchestra, indeed one that extends back to the orchestra’s first season, in which the composer conducted a concert of his own music, including the premiere of the Introduction and Allegro for strings, op. 47. Sir Colin Davis, now the orchestra’s president, has considerable form in Elgar’s music and here conducted a fine account of the Introduction and Allegro. A large string section played with a great deal of vibrato, consonant – for what, if anything, this is worth – with Elgar’s own practice, whatever the occasional weird fanatic might claim. The music undulated like the Malvern Hills, gentle but not uneventful. I thought the fugal writing very well handled, with welcome echoes of Die Meistersinger in its ‘busyness’. If the end result was just a little overblown, that seems to me a reflection of the music rather than the performance. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this work but it has never really ‘spoken’ to me; nor did it on this occasion. There was a very odd claim in the programme notes: ‘Since Elgar’s time, the sound of a string orchestra seems to possess a peculiarly “British” flavour.’ Of course, there are British – or, probably better, English – examples of string orchestral writing after Elgar, but one’s perspective would have to be parochial in the extreme to listen to works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, Berg, Strauss, Webern, Honegger, Boulez, Lutosławski, Xenakis, et al., and discern ‘a peculiarly “British” flavour’.

I cannot summon up a great deal of enthusiasm for Stravinsky’s Orpheus either. Stravinsky is far too great a composer for there not to be passages of interest but I find that this particular ballet does go on a bit, not least on account of its almost unremitting ‘whiteness’. Moreover, this latter quality seems no longer to possess a polemical edge, as in some of the composer’s neo-classical scores; it is sometimes simply dull. That said, the opening sound of the LSO was most inviting: seemingly issuing an invitation to take a journey though several centuries of retelling of the Orpheus myth, rather as Birtwistle has done more recently. In the Air de danse, guest leader Zsolt-Tihámer Visontay’s solo was well attuned to Stravinsky’s peculiar use of the violin, reminding me a little of The Soldier’s Tale; the violin is after all supposed to represent here the Angel of Death. A pair of flutes also weaved some cold, diatonic magic. Davis conjured up an eeriness to the Interlude, in which Orpheus makes his way to Hades, skilful harp playing evoking Monteverdi. Later, a pair of oboes echoed Bach’s cantatas but also foreshadowed The Rake’s Progress, as would a subsequent brass fanfare. And the final apotheosis was gravely beautiful, if still very white. We are all accustomed to Stravinsky’s time-travelling but I am not quite convinced that on this occasion it ultimately adds up to something greater than the sum of some interesting parts. Perhaps a performance with greater bite might have convinced, yet I am far from sure.

However, it would be eccentric, to say the least, to entertain doubts concerning the stature of Brahms’s violin concerto. I have no intention of trying; this is a masterpiece, pure and simple, its stature amply confirmed by the present performance. I sensed a note of defiance in Davis’s ‘old-school’ opening to the first movement; it certainly set the scene for a truly titanic struggle. There would be no easy answers in this performance, for a great deal was at stake from the outset. Davis ensured that the minor mode was very much in the ascendant prior to Nikolaj Znaider’s first entry. Znaider’s flawless, silky tone impressed every bit as much as it had in his performance earlier in the month of Schoenberg’s violin concerto. His solo line throughout the performance was extraordinarily nuanced, which is not to say that in any sense it lacked vehemence, especially in the perfect accomplishment of his double-stopping. One could see and hear him engaging with the orchestral musicians; however, whilst his chamber technique proved invaluable, there could be no doubt that this remained a concerto performance. Znaider and Davis imparted a great dramatic thrust and breadth throughout the vast first movement, showing that one need not preclude the other; indeed, one heightened the other. Unwanted applause marked the pause before a sublime account of the slow movement. Davis’s Mozartian experience shone through in the opening Harmoniemusik, the splendid oboe solo first amongst wind equals rather than a competitor to the violin. Both soloist and conductor, the latter revealing a wealth of orchestral detail, ensured that the Adagio sounded as a continuation of the complex narrative initiated in the first movement, rather than a mere ‘contrast’. Znaider’s line exuded longing whilst never sounding maudlin or saccharine; here was the same rigour we had heard in Schoenberg, indeed the same rigour that so influenced Schoenberg. With the immediate attack of the finale there was finally a sense of release. After his initial solo, Znaider permitted himself a well-deserved smile but there was still much to do. The movement was urgent but never rushed, a cornucopia of endless melody, every line in every part being made to count. Urgency was imparted by implacable rhythm, which in no sense should be taken to imply inflexibility, a lesson many musicians should take to heart. This was a hard-won victory but unquestionably a victory.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Apropos Mozart

A combination of factors has meant that concert-going in May has been a little thinner on the ground than some previous months. There should be an LSO report from this coming Sunday's concert (Elgar, Stravinsky, Brahms: Nikolaj Znaider, Sir Colin Davis), heralding something of a flurry in June.

In the meantime, I thought this link might be of interest: Apropos Mozart is an excellent site, the brainchild of distinguished Mozart scholar, Bruce Cooper Clarke. It includes a large number of essays translated from the original German, many of Clarke's own papers, and a significant selection of essays by guest authors, including one of my own, on power and patronage in La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte.

Thursday 14 May 2009

ECO/Davis - Haydn, Mozart, and Berlioz, 13 May 2009

Cadogan Hall

Haydn – Symphony no.94 in G major, ‘Surprise’
Mozart – Clarinet concerto in A major, KV 622
Berlioz – Les nuits d’été

Antony Pike (clarinet)
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
English Chamber Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

This programme seemed to be organised around composers in whose music Sir Colin Davis has long excelled, rather than any particular connections between the works being performed. Sir Colin’s association with the English Chamber Orchestra must extend back for almost half a century. There could be no doubt from this evening’s performances that the players love working with him. It is rather unusual to have the ordering symphony – concerto – song-cycle, but there is nothing wrong with that and it was quite right to save the radiant Dame Felicity Lott until the last.

Davis’s Concertgebouw set of Haydn’s London symphonies remains a failsafe recommendation; I find it almost impossible to choose between it and Eugen Jochum’s recordings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. (Karajan and Bernstein are certainly no also-rans.) It was therefore with great relish that I looked forward to his performance of the Surprise Symphony, no.94. This was a lighter, perhaps also brighter performance, with a smaller band: the strings throughout the concert were sized The Cadogan Hall is not a large venue, so what might have sounded a touch undernourished in, say, the Barbican, did not here. Light and shade were equally apparent in an extremely well-judged introduction to the first movement. Momentary untidiness of ensemble at the opening of the exposition was soon a distant memory; when repeated, there was no such shortcoming. The woodwind struck me as especially fine, a highlight amongst highlights being the oboe trills. A strong bass line, despite the smallness of the section, underpinned rhythm, harmony, and the combination of the two, whilst Davis attended to the symphonic logic, of which there could be no doubt. The slow movement variations brought an equally strong sense of development, if different in kind. Crisp but never dry strings balanced well with ravishing woodwind. There were sterner moments, for instance the turn to the minor mode in the second variation and the ensuing contrapuntal writing, but one could hear Haydn smiling behind such learning. In the third variation, the oboe soloist once again impressed greatly, as did William Bennett’s contribution on the flute. Trumpets imparted a military impression in the next variation, but it was still fun. To my surprise, Davis took the minuet one-to-a-bar. Still, it was never hard-driven and this music is harmonically less complex than late Mozart. Haydn can take such treatment, especially when taken with a swing such as here. The finale was fast but not too fast; the violins sparkled as if their notes were fountain water at Schönbrunn – or, perhaps better, Esterháza. (Yes, I am well aware that the symphony was written for London.) Harmonic security was very much the key to the fizz that accompanied the music; never did it degenerate into a scramble, as too often it can. Drive and grace were shown to be far from antithetical. Most important, there was always a smile upon the face of the music we heard. And how much more natural this sounded than so many, more consciously ‘moulded’, Haydn performances; indeed, I do not think it could have sounded more natural.

If Davis has long been estimable in Haydn, he has reigned supreme in Mozart since the death of Karl Böhm. (When I count the present-day conductors I should positively wish to hear in Mozart, I find myself unable to go beyond five.) I was not, however, entirely convinced by the first movement of the clarinet concerto, which I felt was taken a little too fast. Granted, there were plenty of opportunities for the music – as well as the soloist – to breathe, but the mood seemed unduly lacking in that almost Brahmsian autumnal quality which, for me at least, is one of the hallmarks of so much late Mozart. (Another would be the bewildering dialectic between simplicity and complexity, supremely evident in The Magic Flute.) Antony Pike, himself a member of the ECO, provided a well shaped solo lone, nicely flexible, and inviting of tone. The low notes of his basset clarinet sang out beautifully, although he encountered a few technical problems. I had no qualms whatsoever concerning the slow movement. It was warm, aria-like – was that the Countess I heard? The music was nostalgic but never mawkish, home to true Mozartian ambivalence – how utterly different he is from Haydn! – especially through the orchestral shadows. Here the warming yet fragile rays of the sun upon an autumn afternoon could certainly be felt. Clearly, the musicians loved this music deeply – and how could they not? The finale exhibited an apt sense of play but did not go undisturbed by shadows. Its hunting compound duple rhythm notwithstanding, joy was not nearly so unalloyed as it would have been with Haydn. Yet, if sometimes we were smiling through tears, we were still smiling.

The second half was devoted to Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été. There were occasions here when I felt the lack of a greater body of strings, but they were perhaps surprisingly few. For instance, upon the climatic words of Sur les lagunes, ‘Et comme je l’aimais!/Je n’aimerai jamais,’ the ECO’s strings impressively showed how much strength they really could muster. Their pizzicato palpitations during the haunting – in more than one sense – Le spectre de la rose – were equally fine. There were once again some splendid woodwind solos, and Sir Colin – unsurprisingly – put not a foot wrong, every tempo sounding right, every transition perfectly judged. It was only really in the first song, Villanelle, that the musicians sounded a touch ill at ease, and this should certainly not be exaggerated. Dame Felicity also truly came into her own in its successor, Le spectre de la rose, incalculable wealth of meaning subtly invested in a single word such as ‘virginal’, even if the transformation, such as it was, were only apparent in retrospect; for one could certainly hear a twinkle in her voice on the final line of each stanza in Villanelle. The restlessness of Berlioz’s orchestration in Sur les lagunes was apparent throughout. Lott imparted a grave beauty to Théophile Gautier’s words – and Berlioz’s setting – though never at the expense of style. The very occasional edge to her voice in Absence was irrelevant in the face of such artistry, the repetitions of ‘Reviens, reviens’ ever the same and yet ever different. It should be said that, here as elsewhere, her every word was crystal clear. Au cimetière was properly unsettling, a true child of the strange phenomenon that is French Romanticism. Berlioz’s weird harmonies were never turned into a freak show and therefore emerged all the more meaningfully. And the Romantic expectation that could be conjured from a single word such as ‘éveillée’ (awakened) once again provided an object lesson in vocal artistry. The final song, L’île inconnue, brought the right sense of adventure but also a hint at fears of what the unknown might bring. I especially liked the bubbling woodwind in the final stanza, gently mocking the girl who naïvely wished to be taken to a shore where love might last forever. This was a fine performance indeed.

Friday 8 May 2009

Znaider/LSO/Gergiev - Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Rachmaninov, 7 May 2009

Barbican Hall

Stravinsky – Symphony in Three Movements
Schoenberg – Violin Concerto, op.36
Rachmaninov – Symphonic Dances, op.45

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev (conductor)

The idea behind this programme was interesting: an exploration of three works written by their composers whilst in exile, part of the broader ‘Emigré’ theme for a number of this season’s London Symphony Orchestra concerts. However, in practice, it did not really seem that the works either had much in common or a productive tension. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements is strong enough to precede the Schoenberg violin concerto, although I suspect that the former might have seemed anti-climatic had it followed. Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances sounded hopelessly out of place and frankly inferior when heard in the second half, even though it was here that the best orchestral performance was to be found.

The opening of the Stravinsky ‘symphony’ – I find it difficult to discern what, other than mischief, he meant by entitling it so – was arresting indeed, the attack of the LSO precise, vigorous, and invigorating. How the orchestra manages to follow Valery Gergiev’s beat, I have no idea, but it does. The woodwind section was delightfully – or should that be repellently? – pugnacious, with the piano part expertly dispatched by John Alley. The passages that come closer to proto-Dumbarton Oaks came off a little less well, with a little too much neo-Tchaikovskian sweetness, likewise certain sections of the slow movement. I should not wish to exaggerate, but the tension slackened, where all should remain rigid and impervious. The con moto finale again sounded splendid, the fugal passage utterly removed from Bachian example – just as it should be. Those who wish to find antecedents for post-war ‘sewing machine’ Baroque may do so here, but there is a dramatic, polemic point being made. Stravinsky, with typical cleverness, gave programmatic explanations before stating ‘the Symphony is not programmatic’. Booklet annotator David Nice described the composer as ‘disingenuous’, but the reality is more interesting than that. Schoenberg wrote of Œdipus Rex: ‘all [is] negative: unusual theatre, unusual resolution of the action, unusual vocal writing, ... [etc.] without being anything in particular.’ That is unfair and untrue, but it partially characterises Stravinskian neo-classicism, perhaps more so here than in the opera-oratorio. On the other hand, one might say that the Austrian composer is utterly wrong; far from not ‘being anything in particular’, Stravinsky’s music is declining to become, certainly in a symphonic sense, in order simply to be. At its best, this performance gave a good impression of the conundrums Stravinsky presents; sharper definition in the chugging ‘neo-Baroque’ passages might have made this a very special account.

It was, though, for Schoenberg’s violin concerto that I had made my journey – and I was not disappointed. This is a work that still acts, even more so than many others of the composer, to put off audiences; quite a few left – disgracefully – during the performance. I am not being disingenuous when I say that I do not understand why; of course I can hazard a few suggestions, but a fine performance, such as this was, ought to have made converts. Sadly, many in the audience appeared not even to be listening. My reservations concerned Gergiev and to a lesser extent the LSO. The conductor was attentive to the score, perhaps a little too much so, since he appeared, if not quite to be sight-reading, then hardly to have it in his head. He could have encouraged a greater dynamic and colouristic range from the orchestra, though I have heard Schoenberg sound greyer. (In this respect, as in so many others, Schoenberg is like Brahms. What might seem dull is only so in the way that an unimaginative person might miss the array of colours and the teeming life in a garden pond, water lilies and all.) What Gergiev did impart, which was of great value, was a strong rhythmic profile to all three movements, to which Nikolaj Znaider was well able to respond; indeed, one could see as well as hear him doing so. The percussion section of the LSO was given great opportunity to shine, reminding me of Schoenberg’s Bach orchestrations and the Variations for Orchestra, op.31. But this was really Znaider’s show. Many have spoken highly, even ecstatically, of Hilary Hahn’s recent recording; I have not heard it, but cannot imagine that her reading could have been better than Znaider’s. (I can well imagine, however, that Esa-Pekka Salonen might have been more closely attuned than Gergiev to the demands of the score.) There could be no doubt as to the cruel technical demands placed upon the soloist, but they were all surmounted, not just with musical meaning – although that is achievement enough – but with seductive tone, even Romantic ardour. The third movement cadenza, here extremely well ‘accompanied’, had to be heard to be believed. And then it remained unbelievable. This was an excellent performance and, immediately it was over, I wanted to hear it again, to take in more of what I had heard, but it would be invaluable to hear Znaider with another conductor. Perhaps Boulez? Or Barenboim?

It is not entirely Rachmaninov’s fault that, after this, even an expert account of his Symphonic Dances would sound conventional – and prolix. Gergiev clearly relishes the score, as does the orchestra. This is, after all, André Previn’s old stomping ground. I was unsure about the principal tempo for the first movement. Admittedly, it is marked Non allegro, which is clearly intended as a warning, but the dances sounded rather galumphing. It was probably at least as much a matter of stressing too many beats as of tempo as such, but the effect was to make one wonder whether the fault lay in the latter. The waltz fantasy of the second movement was nicely evocative of Berlioz (the second movement of the Symphonie fantastique). Great virtuosity was unleashed in the final movement; I doubt whether any orchestra could do better. Yet it sounded distended; what Andrew Huth, in his programme note, described as ‘virtually a life-against-death struggle’ came uncomfortably close to bringing death by attrition: ‘just one more time...’. After the extraordinary achievement heard in Schoenberg’s writing, Rachmaninov began to sound false. I do not think that he is, but the air of this planet, let alone planet Hollywood, seems rather stale once one has breathed that of another.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Komische Oper, Berlin, 2009-10 season preview

Berlin’s Komische Oper has announced details of its 2009-10 season. Often attracting a younger audience than Berlin’s other two houses – 21% under 25 during the period June to November 2008, and 46% up to 45 – the house on Behrenstraße has long had a reputation for innovative production values. This looks set to continue with a varied programme, including no fewer than seven new productions.

The first of these will be Rigoletto, directed by Barrie Kosky, whose previous work at this house has included a superb Iphigénie en Tauride; Patrick Lange conducts. November brings a new ‘family opera’, Die rote Zora, by Elisabeth Naske, receiving its German premiere in a production from the young director, Jasmina Hadziahmetovic. The Komische Oper’s programme for young audiences will also include a revival of Frank Schwemmer’s Robin Hood, as directed by chief director and Intendant, Andreas Homoki. Aribert Reimann’s Lear, written for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, receives a new production from Hans Neuenfels. Music director Carl St Clair conducts, with Tómas Tómasson in the title role. Maurizio Barbacini will conduct and Jetske Mijnssen direct a new production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Handel moves beyond his anniversary year with a new staging of Orlando from Alexander Mørk-Eidem in February 2010, conducted by Alessandro de Marchi. A highlight of the season promises to be Fidelio, again under the baton of St Clair, with staffing by Benedikt von Peter. Will Hartmann and Barbara Schneider-Hofstetter head the cast. Finally, Offenbach’s operetta, La Périchole will be directed by Nicolas Stemann and conducted by Markus Poschner. All new productions, save for Die rota Zara, may be seen in a special festival running from 13 to 18 July 2010.

A number of revivals should be noted. Calixto Bieito’s Armide (reviewed here) reunites the Catalan director with Konrad Junghänel as conductor and the excellent Maria Bengtsson as Gluck’s heroine. Bieito’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is also revived, with Simon Hewett conducting. Intendant Homoki’s production of Christian Jost’s Hamlet returns a house-commissioned work to the stage and Homoki’s Love for Three Oranges finds Stefan Blunier in the pit. Further instances of Homoki’s work may be seen in La Bohème (St Clair conducting), Der Rosenkavalier (Friedemann Layer), Die Fledermaus (in turn by Lange and Stefan Soltesz), and Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (St Clair). Eduard Künneke’s Der Vetter aus Dingsda and a staged version of Mozart’s Requiem bring repertoire one is unlikely to find in other opera houses. Remaining with Mozart, Kosky’s 2005 production of Le nozze di Figaro and Peter Konwitschny’s Don Giovanni also return. Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame will be conducted by Lange, in productions by Thilo Reinhardt. Another side of Kosky’s work may be seen in the Cole Porter musical, Kiss me, Kate. Neuenfels has a second production of the season, with a revival of his La Traviata, St Clair in the pit.

There are eight symphony concerts, four of them conducted by St Clair, with repertoire ranging from Bach through Wagner, Berlioz, and Mahler, to Lou Harrison’s Bubaran Robert for gamelan and trumpet. Guest conductors include Zdeněk Mácal and Heinrich Schiff. Special concerts for Christmas (Tchaikovsky) and of film music may also be heard. In addition, there is a year-long series of foyer concerts, with chamber repertoire running from the baroque and early classical, through Brahms piano trios, to Piazzolla and Harrison.

All works are sung in German but, as of this forthcoming season, English translation on screens in front of seats will be available. Such a service has been available for some time in Vienna and New York; this will be the first of its kind in Germany.

Further details are available on the company’s website, whose English version may be visited by clicking here.

Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin - 2009/10 season preview

The Staatsoper Unter den Linden has announced its programme for 2009-10, its final season before the house closes for renovation, during which time the company will perform at the Schiller Theater in Charlottenburg. The season will open with performances of Tristan und Isolde, which, as part of the ‘Staatsoper für Alle’ series, will be transmitted to the Bebelplatz outside. Daniel Barenboim will conduct a cast including Robert Gambill, Katarina Dalayman, and René Pape, in Harry Kupfer’s production. The same production will be performed again in March and April as part of the Holy Week Festtage; Peter Seiffert and Waltraud Meier will then assume the title roles.

Other performances during the Festtage will include Simon Boccanegra, Eugene Onegin, and a number of concerts, some intended to celebrate Pierre Boulez’s eighty-fifth birthday. Simon Boccanegra will appear first, as a new co-production with La Scala, in October. Barenboim conducts, with Federico Tiezzi as director; Plácido Domingo sings the title role. Achim Freyer’s production of Eugene Onegin (reviewed here) returns, also conducted by Barenboim, with a cast headed by Anna Samuil, Rolando Villazón, Artur Rucinski in the title role, and house favourite Pape as Prince Gremin. Maurizio Pollini presents a piano recital of works by Chopin, Debussy, and Boulez. Anna Netrebko and Barenboim perform works by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov in a Liederabend. Boulez himself conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin, with Barenboim at the piano, in a programme of Boulez, Schoenberg, and Berg, whilst Boulez and Barenboim share the conducting honours for an all-Boulez birthday concert with members of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Hilary Summers as the soloist for Le marteau sans maître.

Three other new productions are announced. Zubin Mehta conducts Die Fledermaus in a production from Christian Pade. René Jacobs and the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin perform Handel’s Agrippina, with Vincent Boussard as director. And Dale Duesing turns his hand to directing with Sir Simon Rattle in the pit for Chabrier’s L’Etoile. Magdalena Kožená and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt head the cast.

There are plenty of operatic revivals too. Ruth Berghaus’s Il barbiere di Siviglia will be conducted by Julien Salemkour, who also conducts Doris Dörrie’s Così fan tutte and Tosca. Puccini is further represented by La Bohème, with Samuil as Mimi, and Madama Butterfly, and Donizetti by L’elisir d’amore. Martin Kušej’s Carmen returns, as does Karsten Wiegand’s Faust, again with Pape. Philippe Jordan will conduct Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Kupfer’s tremendous Salome, and Der Rosenkavalier in Nicolas Brieger’s stylish production (reviewed here); Anne Schwanewilms will be the Marschallin. Le nozze di Figaro presents Hanno Müller-Brachmann in the title role. Schreker’s Der ferne Klang may be seen in Peter Mussbach’s production, conducted by Pedro Halffter. Perhaps most enticingly of all, Stefan Herheim’s Lohengrin, premiered during this season’s Festtage (reviewed here), receives a swift revival, once again conducted by Barenboim, and with a cast to include Samuil, Deborah Polaski, Burkhard Fritz, Kwangchul Youn. Mussbach’s La Traviata and David Alden’s Il Turco in Italia are other productions from celebrated directors. And August Everding’s celebrated Die Zauberflöte, with designs based upon Schinkel’s, returns with a strong cast including Müller-Brachmann, Christof Fischesser, Stephan Rügamer, and Anna Prohaska.

The Staatskapelle Berlin will also give its usual full complement of concerts, both as itself and in smaller chamber groups. A particular highlight will be a series under Barenboim, as pianist and conductor, which will present the later symphonies of Bruckner and the violin and piano concertos of Beethoven. Jordan conducts Ligeti and Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. Mehta may be heard in Webern, Strauss, and Dvořák. Michael Gielen makes a welcome return in Mahler (Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Müller-Brachmann and Petra Lang) and Bruckner. Mahler’s Third Symphony will be conducted by James Levine. Solo recitalists include Barenboim in Chopin and Müller-Brachmann in Brahms, with Jordan at the piano. Barenboim will conduct an orchestral benefit concert for the house with Plácido Domingo as soloist; the varied programme includes Handel, Mozart, Wagner, Mascagni, and zarzuela music. An all-Schumann programme is presented by Barenboim, Lang Lang, and members of the Staatskapelle Berlin.

Further information may be found here.