Ma mère l’Oye Suite
Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra
El Amor Brujo Complete Ballet [1925 version]
Angelika Kirchschlager (soprano)
Priya Mitchell (violin)
Carla Mouriz (mezzo-soprano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 28 October, 2004
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
With its neutrally stylish decor and fittings (shame about the absence of seating in the bar, though), Cadogan Hall seems an excellent venue for London Musici to establish a base for its concert work over forthcoming seasons. This programme was well chosen to demonstrate the executive skills of this large chamber orchestra – set in a lively but not overly fierce acoustic.
It opened with an account of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite that was neither too precious nor over-affectionate – at its best in the toy-orientalism of ‘Laideronette’ and the animated instrumental exchanges of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, though the closing ‘Fairy Garden’ could have done with a little more wistful poetry.
One worthwhile aspect of this concert was in featuring soloists respectively of international renown, nationally recognised and soon-to-be-established. The former being Angelika Kirchschlager – one of today’s leading Richard Strauss singers, whose identity with this music was evident in this selection. The autumnal quietude of “Waldseligkeit” and domestic whimsy of “Muttertändelei” were tellingly conveyed (the latter without archness), with the rapt intensity of “Cäcilie” and ethereal ecstasy of “Morgen!” leaving a palpable frisson in their wake. Only in the tender emotion of “Wiegenlied” did Kirchschlager and Stephenson seemed not quite unanimous as to expressive emphasis. For all the consummate skill of his vocal writing and orchestration, Strauss is an altogether less sensitive Lieder composer than Mahler, and less subtle or imaginative in his response to texts than such younger contemporaries as Zemlinsky or Schreker, though the present selection showed his song-writing at or near its best.
Back in the 1990s, London Musici demonstrated its prowess in present-day repertoire with discs of Arnold and Panufnik. A similar expertise was evident in this account of Schnittke’s Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra – arranged in 1967 by the composer from his First Violin Sonata of four years earlier, in which a thoughtfully undogmatic approach to serial writing is combined with an amalgam of idioms such as became the norm – often self-consciously – in the ‘polystylistic’ music of his maturity. And, in the hands of so attuned a player as Priya Mitchell, it emerged as entertaining as well as provocative. The slower movements had depth without being over-earnest, while their livelier counterparts encouraged a gamut of responses – at times almost choreographed – from soloist and conductor. An audience sceptical beforehand was audibly, and gratifyingly, won over by the close.
If the performance of Falla’s Love, the Magician was not consistently on this level of accomplishment, this was the fault neither of the hard-working London Musici players nor of the young soloist Carla Mouriz. Evidently a fine mezzo in the making, she seemed uncertain quite how to pitch the vocal items; of whether to adopt an approach redolent more of folk-song or art-song. Co-ordination between her and Stephenson was lacking in ‘Song of Suffering Love’, though the later vocal numbers were stylishly rendered. The performance otherwise was at its best in the more introspective ‘The Magic Circle’ and ‘Pantomime’, where Falla’s unforced combination of Andalusian earthiness and Gallic sophistication came across to haunting effect. It certainly brought the concert to an effective close – the first of what promises to be an auspicious residency for this enterprising chamber orchestra.