Posts Tagged ‘SWR’

All Eyes On the Maestro

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Rotonda Foschini and MusicAeterna with Teodor Currentzis in Ferrara

Published: April 30, 2017

FERRARA — Lanky Teodor Currentzis looms over his MusicAeterna players the way Basil Fawlty loomed over Manuel, and with comparable gestures. It is anyone’s guess how their 13-year relationship has survived, what with labor conditions in Russia, the quirks of period-instrument practice, their joint move from Novosibirsk (in Asia) to Perm (in Europe), and the Greek-Russian maestro’s self-absorption. What is certain is that the band is prospering. It recently finished a studio cycle of Mozart’s da Ponte operas for Sony (extravagantly recording Don Giovanni twice because Currentzis was unhappy with the first product). This month it wraps up a nine-city European tour stretching musically from Berg to Pergolesi. And July will see MusicAeterna, not the Vienna Philharmonic, launch the opera schedule at the Salzburg Festival.

Currentzis himself demanded attention April 10 on a tour stop at this Renaissance city’s ornate Teatro Comunale. Concert pants tight as riding breeches and a jacket that would have done everyone a favor six inches longer were a start. Then came his shaking up of the scores at hand. Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 (1773) whirled along on period-design oboes and bassoons, valveless horns and gut strings (tuned to an A pitched probably at 430 Hz); fortepiano continuo; highly contrasted tone colors, the string tone slender yet refined; textures airy and clear; strongly accented rhythms; brisk tempos; and above all a nervous energy in the articulation of every idea. Startled by the sounds, everyone, even the on-duty firemen, gazed at the podium throughout.

But the limits of MusicAeterna’s artistic priorities became clear. The fortepiano stayed in place where the second violins usually are for Mozart’s D-Minor Piano Concerto, K466 (1785), hindering the efforts of soloist Alexander Melnikov, a chamber-music partner of Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras who had flown to Italy for this one date. His instrument’s position, combined with its modest range and tone, left the Russian barely able to distinguish his part — dire straits in the Romanze — while the accompaniment imposed similar values as in the symphony. After the break, in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (1803), a canvas double the size of the Mozart and with ambitions in form and mood beyond its world, Currentzis’ chronic grimness of attack and unnuanced balances grew tiresome, for all the Perm musicians’ virtuosity.

Architecturally the Ferrara theater is a treat, not least its oval courtyard, the Rotonda Foschini. A “stage-space of suggestions” or just a graceful place to wander during intermission, it draws the eye up and around in, well, dizzying ovals. After concerts, listeners exit the venue to face immediately the dark, massive Castle of the House of Este — rulers from here for four hundred years; reclaimers of Po Delta marshland; humanist pioneers of the “ideal city” and modern urban planning; employers of Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini, Andrea Mantegna; art collectors and exemplars for the Medicis and the Vatican.

In a surprise, Currentzis early this month was appointed to the top conducting job in Stuttgart. He will be Chefdirigent of the new SWR Symphonie-Orchester, fruit of the poisonous merger of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR. This is of course a “normal” orchestra, unlike MusicAeterna, intended as a full counterpart to Bavaria’s lavishly funded Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. So it will be fascinating to see how he does, how the conservative state of Baden-Württemberg receives him, how he splits his time with Perm, and whether he can cope with limited artistic power and a German bureaucracy. One wag (Ralf Döring in Osnabrück) quickly dubbed Südwest-Rundfunk’s choice of Currentzis a “diversionary tactic” to skirt the merger pain, his point being that the maestro’s interpretations are polarizing enough to corner all discussion. Currentzis starts in Sept. 2018, with, it should in fairness be noted, past work under his belt with both dissolved orchestras.

Photos © Andrea Parisi (rotonda), Marco Caselli Nirmal (concert)

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Time for Schwetzingen

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Schlossgarten at Schwetzingen

Published: June 21, 2014

SCHWETZINGEN — The right setting makes all the difference. At the palace here, a probing six-week spring music festival mirrors the scale and serenity of its context, courtesy each year of Stuttgart broadcaster SWR. Two days last month afforded a sampling of the extended activities: the melodic Arcadian opera Leucippo (1747), nudging forward the slow Hasse revival, and Strauss songs and Brahms trios, which as performed proved equally enlightening.

Schloss Schwetzingen is quite the venue. Its 14th-century embellished castle keep sits on an axis west six miles from bookish Heidelberg. Both towns are now part of metro Mannheim. The axis continues under the building’s arch onto a terrasse flanked by curved Rococo salon wings, festival HQ. Here a perfect large circle of formal greenery permits unique ¾-km intermission strolls, a particle collider for the listener. The line then drops to a vast lower plane of tended tree and bush plantings that hide a Baroque bathhouse, a fake mosque, a shrine to a lyre-playing Apollo and a trellised vision of the Edge of the World. In the contemplative distance, open fields reach the Rhine and the lucrative hilly Pfalz vineyards.

SWR commandeers the palace at an ideal time (April 25 thru June 7 this year). Spring tourism is discreet and decorous, the skies sunny by German norms, the gardens colorful. And May is spargel season: Prince-Elector Karl Theodor — when he wasn’t sponsoring orchestral innovation or Mannheim’s sigh, crescendo, rocket and roller — made Schwetzingen the nation’s spargel capital, and so the beloved but bland big white asparagus, plucked from mounds of earth once the tips show, is on every menu, typically offered under a thick hollandaise.

Festival programs are curated to source SWR broadcasts, balancing input from the company’s three carefully named* orchestras. The fare is chamber music and recitals, mainly, with limited opera and steady veins of new and rare. Ticket sales, something of an afterthought, are constrained by the modest sizes of the theater and two bright salons in those Rococo wings. Built in ten weeks in 1752 and nearly as ornate as Munich’s Cuvilliés Theater, the celebrated opera house holds just 450 people.

Christian Tetzlaff, in the Mozartsaal on May 24, operated as dynamic artistic hinge in Brahms’s three piano trios. He blended flawlessly on one side with the reserved, graceful cellist Tanja Tetzlaff. On the other, he seemed locked in quasi-combat with the grimacing, dramatic, not so lyrical but emphatically focused pianist Lars Vogt. The C-Minor work registered these qualities immediately in a heated, hypnotic reading. The adventurous C-Major followed, duly poignant in its Andante con moto. Given in revised form (1890), the Trio in B Major received equal treatment but managed to sound unrelated, a boisterous world unto itself.

Next door in the Jagdsaal the next morning (May 25), Anna Lucia Richter applied her bright, creamy lyric soprano to an overlong Strauss and Marx program, broadcast live. Composer Michael Gees accompanied. Never less than fluent in his playing, Gees proved virtuosic and inspired in the astutely chosen (1909–12) Marx set: Nocturne, Pierrot Dandy, Selige Nacht, Die Begegnung (from the Italian Songbook), Und Gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht and Waldseligkeit.

Richter, 24, exuded youthful dignity in Strauss’s Drei Lieder der Ophelia, written in 1918, and managed to vitalize with color the four relatively plain Mädchenblumen (Opus 22), known for Epheu but given complete. She traced the familiar Opus 27 group and four songs from Opus 10 with technical finesse, not so much introspection, and in the Marx matched Gees’s passion and sense of grandeur. All through, she appeared immersed in the words. A Sophie for tomorrow.

The pleasures tailed off, alas, at the theater (evening of May 25), as the right setting gave way to the risible. Hasse’s favola pastorale to a Pasquini libretto finds a happy ending for Leucippo and Dafne — the outcome of divine will, not of unsanctioned cross-dressing as in Strauss’s account — but stage director Tatjana Gürbaca dealt gloom and madness by lodging all three acts in an empty and windowless oval boardroom. Monty Python costumes in ice cream colors degraded her Arcadian protagonists.

The arias of the propulsive score, premiered at Hubertusburg and first given here a decade later, are shaped with often robust accompaniment and well describe and separate the six characters. Choral contributions are minor. Leading this broadcast performance, Konrad Junghänel stressed the orchestra’s role and enforced bold, engaging dynamics; Concerto Köln delivered pristine ensemble peppered with much solo virtuosity. But vocal honors were qualified. Soprano Claudia Rohrbach’s stylish, buoyant Delio stood out. Mezzo-soprano Virpi Raisanen, singing from the pit as a substitute Dafne, performed wonders under the circumstances. The golden tones of countertenor Vasily Khoroshev in the title role offered satisfaction on one level; his Italian could not be deciphered. Baritone Holger Falk, as Nunte, and the musically elegant tenor Francisco Fernández Rueda, as Narete, projected their voices feebly into the small house, while soprano Netta Or presented a shrill Climene.

[*The Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern, Chefdirigent Karel Mark Chichon; the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Chefdirigent François-Xavier Roth; and the better-known Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Chefdirigent Stéphane Denève.]

Photo © Thomas Schwerdt

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