OAE/Rattle Malena Ernman

Idomeneo – Ballet Music
Cosi fan tutte – E amore un Ladroncello
Le nozze di Figaro – Giunse alfin il momento/Al desio; Deh vieni, non tardar; Non so più cosa son
La Clemenza di Tito – Non più di Fiori
Mass in C minor, K427 – Laudamus te
Symphony No.92 in G (Oxford)

Malena Ernman (mezzo-soprano)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 December, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

If there was any disappointment regarding the non-appearance of Magdalena Kožená, there was little sense of it in a capacity Barbican Hall; and, anyway, Sir Simon Rattle’s direction of the Idomeneo ballet – incisive, dynamic and graceful – would have swept away any lingering regrets.

It was, of course, a great pity that Kožená was absent (through illness), but it was also a pleasure to welcome Malena Ernman – tall, sleek and blonde, very much in the Swedish manner. Kožená was to have sung Haydn’s cantata “Arianna a Naxos” and three Mozart arias. Ernman focussed on Mozart and doubled the quota. She was a delight to watch and she has a gently magnetic personality; her musicality is evident in her unaffected phrasing and in her expressive face, and there was an overall naturalness that was wholly inviting. That said, Ernman’s voice, at present, seems somewhat colourless and her lower register may not be strong enough; yet she has the ability to convey much without drawing attention to any one aspect. Ernman’s wit and sparkle was pleasurable, and her easy exhibitionism of showy moments was accurate and never strayed from the music’s intrinsic qualities. Whether Ernman and Rattle have worked together before, I know not; here there were moments of ‘sticking together’ while others, as the sequence of arias went on, suggested a blooming relationship.

The arias were brought off with consideration and liveliness – maybe too pushed along in “Non so più”, in which some syllables went for nothing, although an emotional palpitation was very evident. Having received a bouquet of flowers, Ernman placed it on the conductor’s podium to deliver an encore (“Voi che sapete” from ‘Figaro’). Afterwards, she eyed Rattle and pointed to the flowers and the gallant Sir Simon stooped to retrieve them, much to his amusement and everybody else’s. He remained on the platform to applaud and it seems that Malena Ernman can command with the merest flick of an eyelid. Equally disarming is her acknowledgement of the audience – genuinely modest and only too happy to share acclaim with those around her. And the OAE provided some wonderful sounds, not least from the basset horns in the first of the ‘Figaro’ arias, and from Antony Pay’s clarinet in the one from ‘Tito’.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment had brought deftness and quintessence to the ballet music, and proved vibrant partners in the arias and, finally, the musicians responded willingly to all of Rattle’s requirements in Haydn’s ‘Oxford’ Symphony – whether it was in the faultless balance between woodwinds and strings, the dialogue between antiphonal violins, and the independence of brass and timpani. Yet, it could be argued that Rattle also underlines certain features too much, and his play with dynamics can become mannered – more for the sake of it than in taking the music forward. Yet there was some lovely timbres created, and it was certainly never dull. For all the nimbleness of the playing the finale would have enjoyed a more moderate tempo, and it was the symphony’s slow introduction (songful, mysterious, and caressing), the arresting trumpet-and-drum interruptions to the otherwise-beatific slow movement, and the open-toned horns in the Trio, made indivisibly part of Rattle’s vigorous view of the Minuet, that linger in the memory. If not everything in this Haydn performance was as ‘uncomplicated’ as these highlights, there was no doubting the sparks that Rattle and the OAE created at every turn.

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