Terrestre [UK premiere]
Lichtbogen for nine instruments and live electronics
Mario Caroli (flute)
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra
André de Ridder
Die Schöpfung (The Creation) [Sung in German]
Ruth Ziesak (soprano)
Helge Rønning (tenor)
Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
Reviewed by: Evan Dickerson
Reviewed: 7 June, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
Prefacing Haydn’s eternally youthful oratorio was one of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s regular “Music of Today” concerts. On paper at least one could see the suitability of the two works by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Terrestre has been described as “a bewitching flute concerto, inspired by the flight and songs of birds”. Lichtbogen combines instruments and electronics to create an evocation of the Northern Lights.
André de Ridder stood in for the advertised Ilan Volkov, and conducted with commitment. Mario Caroli took the solo flute part in his stride, vocalisations, rasping whistles and all. Indeed, if at times the music did not suggest flight then his posture did in its darting and craning.
Perhaps Saariaho’s use of electronics to create “extended techniques” for performers had some interest, particularly in the amplification of quiet passages to help the listener get ‘inside’ the work, but it had little lasting impact on the memory or emotions.
With Haydn, and particularly in the case of “The Creation”, the playfulness and wit that the 65-year-old composer imbued the work with proves entirely infectious time after time. Not that long ago I read of a conductor remarking that all one needed do with Haydn was to set the correct tempo and the rest would fall into place. On the surface at least this performance might have proved the point: András Schiff’s tempos were for the most part sprung and moved things along efficiently enough. His brief note of admiration for Otto Klemperer in the programme in no way reflected his own interpretative style.
What was lacking however was a sense of real individuality in the playing or conducting. The witty imagination in the orchestration often went for nothing early on, though as the performance progressed, things improved, particularly in the recitatives.
Schiff’s generalist approach to conducting meant cues were missed or late in coming, and he often tried to be everywhere at once to the detriment of dynamics, voicing and phrasing, though the brass had a nice weight.
Being a performance on the lean and lithe side, the contribution of Philharmonia Voices was felt through judicious word-pointing rather that strength and vocal weight. Each soloist made telling contributions. Ruth Ziesak was radiant at the beginning of Part Two and in her duet in Part Three. Christian Gerhaher was a sensitive partner and showed imagination with the text through varied and powerful delivery, relishing the recitatives especially. By comparison Helge Rønning seemed a little lacking in presence, though his voice is serviceable enough.
In the final analysis, then, a performance that could be said to have little technically wrong with it, but one that lacked that requisite essential ingredient: imagination and individuality.
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