Impressive Performances of Schoenberg and Berg Bring Vienna to King’s Place

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vienna Revisited’ – Schoenberg and Berg: Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Alice Privett (soprano), Chad Vindin (piano), Members of the Aurora Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Nicholas Collon (conductor).  Hall One, Kings Place, 18. and 20.9.2014 (MB)

SchoenbergVerklärte Nacht, op.4
Lied der Waldtaube
Chamber Symphony no.1, op.9
BergSeven Early Songs


‘Vienna Revisited’ has been the title of Kings Place’s mini-festival, ‘curated’ by Nicholas Snowman. I managed to attend two out of the four concerts, missing the Quatuor Diotima (Beethoven, Schoenberg, and Brahms) and the Aurora Orchestra (Webern, Berg, and Mahler). First up was an intriguing performance of Verklärte Nacht by six members of the London Sinfonietta (Clio Gould, Joan Atherton, Paul Silverthorne, Yuko Inoue, Tim Gill, and Jonathan Ayling), a performance which once again confirmed the superiority of Schoenberg’s original sextet version over its later orchestral incarnation. I say ‘intriguing’, since, especially for the sextet version, the spectre of Brahms was far less present than one might have expected, Wagner instead proving more a guiding force in a highly dramatic account, which might almost have been an operatic scene without words. One also had a very strong sense of six individual musicians – coming together, yes, but also with particular things to say. The veiled opening signalled, at least in retrospect, a dramatic ‘extreme’, for wonderfully expressive – not indiscriminate – vibrato was to come. Expressionism beckoned too. Without going to any perversely anti-Romantic extreme, there was great clarity; in some respects, I was put in mind of a Domaine musical recording, supervised by Boulez. Sections were clearly demarcated; one would not always want to hear it like this, but there was a stronger than usual sense both of the poem and almost of something akin to versicle and response. It was almost as if one were reading an illustrated short story. There was moreover, a strong impression given of the character – and meaning – of particular keys and their relationship to one another. An unfortunate instance of electronic interference, just before the final transfiguration, could not disrupt a fine performance.

Sarah Connolly joined a larger Sinfonietta ensemble under Nicholas Collon for the chamber version of the ‘Lied der Waldtaube’ from Gurrelieder. Connolly as soloist offered a wonderful range of colour and expression, her use of words just as impressive as her command of vocal line. Increasing richness of tone marked hers out very much as the ‘mittlere Stimme’ Schoenberg prescribes – even if I continue to love the recording Jessye Norman made with Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. After a somewhat wayward cor anglais opening line, the orchestra imparted an excellent sense of the febrile quality to this reduced instrumentation, although Collon’s conducting was somewhat fussy, stronger on the paradoxical clockwork element than the equally important late-Romantic profusion.

Collon fared better in the First Chamber Symphony, though the very fast tempo adopted at the beginning – whatever Schoenberg may have prescribed – perhaps proved self-defeating, and I could not help but wish for this, perhaps the sunniest of Schoenberg’s inspirations, to have smiled, Haydn-like, a little more. Expertly performed by old hands, this account was not inflexible, but sometimes a little too moulded by the conductor, at least for my taste. Still, there was incredible virtuosity to be heard, great clarity, and a fine blend of lines, all despatched with an impressive sense of kinetic energy.

The other, short concert I attended two days later, was given by soprano, Alice Privett and pianist, Chad Vindin, with a brief appearance from members of the Aurora Orchestra (Rebecca Larsen, Chris Deacon, and Sarah Mason). Berg’s Seven Early Songs came first. ‘Nacht’ displayed from the outset excellent diction. A slightly deliberate tempo worked very well, permitting detail and decadence alike to tell. And those harmonies, threatening to float, Jakobsleiter-like, into the ether! The paradoxical sense of convivial Einsamkeit was very well conveyed. ‘Schilflied’ struck a lighter note, without losing expressivity; we heard here Berg as heir to Liszt and Wolf. ‘Die Nachtigall’ was passionate, if perhaps a little strident. I wondered whether ‘Traumgekrönt’ might have been a little less deliberate, but it benefited from Vindin’s strong sense of the labyrinthine tendencies, even at this stage, to Berg’s harmonies. ‘Im Zimmer’ showed keen attention from soprano and pianist alike to the shifting moods and registers of the poem, for instance to the crackling fireplace, as well as the music ‘itself’. ‘Liebesode’ was grand, even grandiloquent, as arguably befits the poem, whilst the final ‘Sommertage’, if again a little strident in the vocal line, had a fine sense of the song as a whole.

Schoenberg’s Cabaret Songs followed. ‘Der genügsame Liebhaber’ immediately displayed a different mood: more playful, even ‘acted’, in short that of cabaret. Perhaps the piano was a little more reticent than it might have been, but that would not be a problem in subsequent songs. The mock stridency of ‘Einfältiges Lied’ was captured well by both artists, pictorial elements in the piano part coming across with admirable clarity. ‘Nachtwandler’ had the Aurora musicians join in. Those Musikanten, as the text would have them, did not always blend together so well as they might, but it is a tricky thing to walk on and perform for a single song. The real disintegrative tendencies to what might seem on the surface a simple song received fine, commendably flexible attention in the piano part. ‘Jedem das Seine’ was then taken more slowly, more reflectively than usual: more Romantic Lied, less evident cabaret, after which ‘Mahnung’ registered with proper Brettl-archness. (Weimar culture did not come from nowhere.)  A nicely coquettish account of ‘Gigerlette’ , a lively ‘Galathea’ (with a lightly post-Tristan fourth stanza), followed. Although there were a few slips in the final ‘Aus dem Spiegel von Arkadien’, this remained an impressive recital throughout.

Mark Berry


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