The Glory Tree
Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn [arr. James Olsen]
Drumhead Mass [First performance]
Natalie Raybould (soprano)
Liora Grodnikaite (mezzo-soprano)
Jared Holt (baritone)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 9 June, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London
After performing “Pierrot Lunaire”, a group of friends continued working together, as the Kreisler Ensemble, which plays mostlynew works, with older ones alongside. The members’ professional interests extend to dramatic contexts and other art forms.
In three of the works performed, words feature significantly. Theirlyrics were projected onto a wide screen. On-screen, during “Pierrot Lunaire”, was twenty-one black-and-white photos by Quentin Hare, one for each of Schoenberg’s settings. These soft-grained, soft-focussed images were a striking and intelligent visual accompaniment to Schoenberg’s notation.
Natalie Raybould’s costume brought flamboyant visual drama.Black-and-white stripes leaped across her pantaloons and top; her headgear was jet-black and her nose was clown-red. In thissetting, her stance cried out for dramatic gestures and neat footwork. Instead, it was virtually static. Her singing was calculatedly non-expressive – a shrill, rasping monotone. I found the instrumental playing lively yet ultimately rather dull and character-less.
The issue, I guess, is how you interpret Schoenberg’s very precise instructions about performance. Do they concern minimising schmaltz (as did a warm-voiced Brigitte Fassbaender at the Wigmore Hall a year or so ago) – or preparing for the Daleks to take over, as here?
In “The Glory Tree”, too, Raybould rose to the occasion. Sheuttered a number of loud, high-pitched screeches most expertly. These uningratiating noises arose from composition not inadequate performance. The piece itself set Anglo-Saxon texts. They suggested someone’s initiation into gaining shamanistic powers – experiences of the natural spirit forces of Air, Water and Earth. In this piece, Air was high-pitched, declamatory and raucous (keyed instruments and woodwind); Water was smoother and more dark-toned (the chance for some very pleasing woodwind playing) while Earth was loud and abrasive.
I found the music busy but inconsequential.. Climaxes came as fortuitous swells in the general noise-making than as moments of heightened experience.
James Olsen’s Mahler arrangements were very effective indeed. The first song, “Lied des Verfolgten im Turm”, caught the Mahler style precisely, and its agile twists and turns, too. Not until “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” was this opening panache recaptured. Four impediments arose. Most serious was the constriction of stage-space, Instrumentalists, sitting right behind vocalists, out-blasted the voices during every loud passage. Secondly, a Viennese lilt was lacking. Thirdly, Jared Holt’s singing. His voice is quite pleasing, but glum and monotonous –lugubrious, indeed. True, in material, he drew the short straw – aconvict, a child dying of starvation, a drummer boy about to go to the gallows. Yet, his “Urlicht” was also strained and monotone. His dullness there had no excuse. Lastly, during louder passages, Liora Grodnikaite’s voice coarsened and her articulation became gobbled, although some of her contributions were a delight. Sherevealed a soft, rich voice, a wonderful coloratura flourish at theend of ‘ Trompeten’, a sense of life and longing, of humour andmischief.
Oliver Weeks’s “Drumhead Mass” was most impressive –and extremely effectively performed. It is brief and perfunctory, but extremely rich. Its soundworld and tonal reference range from the lightest, briefest snatch from a several-hundred-year-old piece for brass to a section for caressed side drum and a flute breathed into without producing a note. Two terse and exclamatory climaxes had shattering impact.
Matilda Hofman’s conducting was excellent throughout.