Voigt and Gatti

Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op.50
Wesendonck-Lieder [four songs orchestrated Mottl]
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Deborah Voigt (soprano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniele Gatti

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: 27 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This was a high-risk programme even if it didn’t look like one. After conducting the Eroica with the RPO in Florida this February, Daniele Gatti berated the audience for applauding in the wrong places and for arriving late, railing at the acoustics, the stage and the placement of the orchestra and generally ‘losing it’. It is hard to believe that the Royal Albert Hall scores much higher in respect of any of the above.

On this occasion, the maestro went for an unconventional seating arrangement designed to boost the double basses but which did so at the expense of the wind and hence didn’t quite work. He also conducted the entire concert without a score. As for Deborah Voigt, in the wake of Covent Garden’s reluctance to squeeze her into its production of Ariadne auf Naxos, she chose to wear her own interpretation of the little black dress, having slimmed down considerably at some risk to vocal health. There was plenty to go wrong even without a note being played! In the event one need not have worried. The audience was for the most part attentive in a sensibly lit albeit woefully hot hall.

The Hindemith opener was given a scorching if none too coherent workout, full of extremes of tempo and dynamic with raw vitality compensating for what was lacking in terms of clarity or grace. The oddly featureless, low-key Beethoven betrayed more signs of under-rehearsal in its dearth of incident. While tempos were well-nigh ideal, nothing much caught fire. Only the dapper, speedy scherzo and the finale’s ill-judged dash for the finishing line felt in any way original or different. The rest seemed merely muted, insufficiently fresh.

Gatti’s Wagner by contrast had evidently been plotted in minute detail, all the expressive nuances etched in with his customary flair. Not that everything worked. You’d need the Berlin, Vienna or Dresden orchestras to launch the Tristan Prelude at this sort of rapt dawdle. A few particulars were smudged; others shone out, wonderfully translucent. The contribution of the star turn was just a little underwhelming. The Wesendonck-Lieder felt disengaged even when Voigt came alive with a sudden burst of passion towards the end of each song. She offered ample warmth and security – without Eaglen-like hardness – yet I didn’t detect much that was truly individual. Perhaps that will come. The Liebestod suggested that she does have better diction but a considerably lighter voice than the classic Isoldes of the past. It’s an instrument that does not ride the orchestra at full throttle and was not quite comfortable when placing what needs to be a supremely blissful final note.

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 9 September at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004
  • RPO

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