Broderick’s Zemlinsky Performance Crackles with Dramatic Tension

 United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Zemlinsky, Beethoven: Katherine Broderick (soprano), David Hayman (narrator), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, John Storgårds (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 01.11.2014 (SRT)

Schubert:     Overture and Entr’actes from Rosamunde
Zemlinsky:   Waldgespräch
Beethoven:   Incidental music to Egmont


In a neat piece of programming, tonight’s concert featured two sets of theatre music, both of which have well-known movements but which are seldom heard complete.  Schubert’s famous third Entr’acte from Rosamunde here had a beautiful flow to it, with some deliciously sweet winds.  The overture took me aback, however, partly because of the serious, threatening opening, but more because the slightly expanded size of the orchestra sounded rather outsized for the venue; very close on the ear, with even a touch of blare to the brass in the big chords.  That tended to mar the first of the Entr’actes too, and it’s a shame because it’s so avoidable.  Glasgow City Halls, the concert’s other venue last night, has a bigger acoustic, and maybe John Storgårds conducted with that location in mind, but the big tuttis sounded regrettably in-your-face, despite the often refined quality of the playing.

 Losing a few players for Egmont made a big difference, the sound fitting much more comfortably and featuring a brass sound that was exciting and punchy rather than domineering.  The Overture proceeded with bite and a sense of threat, but the strings managed to soften the mood notably for the love scenes that followed.  Katherine Broderick sung her two numbers with wide-eyed enthusiasm, be it in the battle song or the love song, and the final Symphony of Victory set the seal on the whole set of music very successfully.  I didn’t warm to David Hayman’s narration, though.  Performing incidental music poses a perpetual problem if it’s an unfamiliar play; namely, do you need to fill in the audience on some of the story?  Generally, I find this seldom works, and the EIF’s Martyre de Saint Sebastian back in the summer was blessedly free of narrative fill-in.  Hayman’s delivery was perfectly fine, despite being swamped in some of the tuttis, but the narration was full of overblown language, puffed up poetry and painfully extended similes.  Just playing the music would have been fine, thanks.

 In fact, the most successfully dramatic thing of the whole evening was Zemlinsky’s remarkable Waldgespräch, setting the same Eichendorff poem about the witch, Lorelei, as Schumann sets in his Op. 39 Liederkreis.  Zemlinsky’s version, however, is much more dramatic, full of both the nobility and the terror of the knight as he discovers the true identity of his damsel in distress, and Broderick brought this to life brilliantly, acting with her features as well as cresting over the high phrasing with admirable ease and sparkling clarity.  The score also seems to move, agitatedly, from one scene to the other, and Zemlinsky’s string-heavy orchestration manages to convey the terror of the story with the lush fin-de-siècle elegance that you hear in his operas.  With crackling dramatic tension and opulent luxury in the score, this was a great discovery.

Simon Thompson

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