Splendid Valedictory Strauss from Bramwell Tovey and Adrianne Pieczonka

25/01/2017

Richard Strauss: Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, 21.1.2017. (GN)

Bramwell Tovey © Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Bramwell Tovey © Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Strauss, Travel Fever and Waltz Scene from Intermezzo Op.72; Vier letzte Lieder; Ein Heldenleben Op.40

Bramwell Tovey has always loved conducting Richard Strauss and, over the years, has worked through Death and Transfiguration, Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra with some success. As he approaches the end of his tenure with the VSO, it is understandable that he might gravitate towards Ein Heldenleben, one of the supreme valedictory works. Indeed, the work has stood as the last recorded testament of a variety of conductors, notably Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir John Barbirolli. Befitting the occasion, this turned out to be Tovey’s finest and most committed Strauss conducting to date: full of feeling, glow and amplitude, a genuine tenderness, and paced with enviable cohesion. Adding to the somber hues were the composer’s Four Last Songs, lovingly negotiated by acclaimed Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka.

The Heldenleben took a little while to find its stride: the opening might have been slightly too controlled (even if it achieved a somewhat Reineresque discipline and drive) while the winds of the critics’ protestations might have been pointed with more accuracy. Nonetheless, the entry of the solo violin in the love music – played wonderfully by Acting Concertmaster Nicholas Wright – settled everything down and created exactly the right sentient fabric and expressive flow to move the work forward. Here was deeply-felt music making, and the orchestra seemed to pick up the feelings immediately, taking all the music’s undulations to heart with a natural sense of involvement and facility. The strings consistently found fine bloom and lyrical shape, always cultivating the right seamless arc in their phrasing. The winds found their expressive ardour too. The ‘battle’ was not overly dramatic but was executed with fine purpose, and the line of the music was so sufficiently well established that even Strauss’ quotations from his earlier works seemed to have a galvanizing role. It was the sense of nobility in the procession (almost Elgarian here) and the tenderness and repose in the hero’s ultimate ‘retreat’ – the final solo violin extremely moving – that made the closing sections so special and, yes, touchingly bittersweet. The feeling was so genuine, and everything moved to the close so naturally. I have rarely witnessed Maestro Tovey more involved.

Adrianne Pieczonka has a marvelous voice, rich, flexible and full of character, and she dug into the Four Last Songs with evident feeling. Perhaps this was singing of greater weight than sometimes encountered, but the degree of expression and the emotional absorption into the text was beguiling. The orchestral contribution was admirably attentive, but from the opening ‘Frühling’ it also seemed on the ‘loud’ side, and possibly not expansive enough. I am used to the orchestra providing a particularly ethereal and wondrous underpinning, serene with a sensuous angst underneath, but here everything seemed more in the light of day. ‘September’ might have used more undulating flow and mystery yet the singing had striking character and firmly cut the orchestral texture when it had to. Nicholas Wright’s poignant violin solo convincingly complemented the enticing vocal expanses of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’. Again, the closing ‘Im Abendrot’ might have fostered a greater orchestral flow and suspension, but Pieczonka was fully involving if less bittersweet than one sometimes encounters. I enjoyed this traversal, and its small limitations did not diminish the joy of the concert one iota.

The warm up was the ‘Travel Fever and Waltz Scene’ from Intermezzo – indeed, brazen and energetic enough to get the show rolling. I thought this was one of Maestro Tovey’s most endearing concerts.

Geoffrey Newman 

Previously published in a slightly different form on http://www.vanclassicalmusic.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month