Ain Anger Sings Mussorgsky with Cavernous Authority


Dean, Mussorgsky, Beethoven: Ain Anger (bass), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Olari Elts (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 7.4.2016. (SRT)

Dean: Testament

Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death (arr. James Ledger)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

Olari Elts is a regular collaborator with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but while this gives him a warm relationship with them, it hasn’t meant that he has ended up doing things out of habit. Quite the reverse.  He approached Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as though it was being played for the first time, with sparkling energy, clear articulation and a sense of narrative drive that rendered the whole thing sort of unarguable (even though his horn section let him down more than once).  There was also a molten string sound running under the brio of the first movement, which came into its own in the Andante, and he gave us a Scherzo of beautifully judged contrasts.

Likewise, Brett Dean’s Testament, inspired by Beethoven’s state of mind as he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, felt logical and precisely articulated, from the desperate scratching of the opening through the false hope of the Razumovsky quotations and the climactic terror of the disjointed ending.  If Dean was trying to evoke Beethoven’s anguished uncertainty, then his interpreters told that story with rock-solid clarity.

The most interesting thing on the programme, though, was James Ledger’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death.  Eschewing Rimsky-Korsakov’s and Shostakovich’s orchestrations, Ledger adopts a setting for violas, cellos, basses, harp, horns and clarinets, giving a totally distinctive and utterly appropriate darkness to the sound.  It’s used very intelligently, though, with skirling clarinets to evoke the snowstorm of the Troika and, in the opening Lullaby, the cellos sounding both richly alluring as the voice of death and shuddering panic at the mother’s entreaties.  It also has the advantage of reducing the chance of the soloist being swamped, though there’s little danger of that when Ain Anger is your bass.  Fresh from the recent run of Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, Anger has a dominant voice that filled the Queen’s Hall effortlessly.  He isn’t Russian, but he has all the characteristics of the most profound Russian basses; namely cavernous authority and the narrative articulation to match.  He is utterly commanding in this repertoire, not just in setting the narrative scene – showing that you don’t need an opera stage to tell a story – but especially when he spoke the words of Death himself, booming with authority when, for example, he spoke the words “You are mine!” at the end of the Serenade.  His is a voice you don’t argue with and you don’t forget.

Simon Thompson


Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H