Small-Scale Wagner Makes A Productively Different Evening

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Wagner: Arensky Chamber Orchestra/William Kunhardt (conductor). Oak Room, The Hospital Club, London, 2.6.2016 (MB)

Wagner, Siegfried-Idyll; Selection from Götterdämmerung (arr. Iain Farrington) 

Since its founding concert, held in another, rather different London club, the Arensky Chamber Orchestra has done things differently. That has not, I think, been for the sake of it, although novelty certainly does no harm in getting one noticed, but because difference, by its essence, has perhaps helped it do things more ‘conventional’ ensembles might not, has perhaps helped it reach slightly different audiences, and perhaps also because different locations, not always concert halls, may make one think about music differently.

Here, at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, we heard Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll, and towards its end were served with mushroom canapés. The ACO’s music director then introduced us to the music from Götterdämmerung by reading to us a story-book-like account of the action interspersed with musical examples from the orchestra. We were then treated with a cocktail, ‘Siegfried’s Fate’ – what a pity Hans von Wolzogen did not open a bar! – before hearing a skilfully made continuous selection from the grandest of all musical dénouements.

The Siegfried-Idyll was lovingly played. Kunhardt spoke of his own love for the music and added that it was a favourite of the players too; there was no difficulty in imagining that from the performance we heard. There was a considerable degree of rubato, especially to begin with, but it convinced. A chamber sound – one really heard the music as a string quartet at the opening – was very much what we heard; although it most certainly was, it rarely sounded ‘conducted’. It seems invidious to single anyone out, but I was especially taken by the contributions from the flautist and the first violist. String playing in particular, perhaps partly on account of the intimacy of the venue, came across in powerfully physical fashion; one could almost feel the contact of bow with string. This was a well-shaped performance throughout, not afraid to linger, yet without exaggeration.

It has perhaps not irrelevant to mention that Iain Farrington is Arranger-in-Residence (wonderful title!) to the Aurora Orchestra, for the ACO shows much of that ensemble’s enterprise. They certainly took to an arrangement from Götterdämmerung, which incorporated more of the action within its relatively brief span – I am afraid I cannot tell you how long – than I should have thought possible. It is in the nature of listeners to moan about what is or is not included in such selections; I shall try to resist that temptation, for Farrington even managed to give us a little of Hagen’s call to the Vassals, despite the greater part of his attentions having been devoted, perhaps not surprisingly, to the first act (and Prologue) and to the third. Taking us from the Prelude to the first act, through Dawn, with wonderful, grainy woodwind, we took in a little of Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love duet before sailing down the Rhine. In this context, the affinity of this music with some of the material from the Siegfried-Idyll was striking. That little detour into the second act having been savoured, we heard Siegfried meeting the Rhinemaidens in the third, before spending more time on the final scenes. Siegfried’s death registered with properly tragic import, time almost yet not quite standing still: skilful conducting indeed here, as well as excellent solo playing! The Funeral March registered with due tragedy too, especial mention here being warranted by the ACO’s solo trumpeter and its percussionists. Gutrune’s scene – notoriously omitted by Wieland Wagner – was present, before a truncated Immolation Scene, which had the only really awkward arrangement-corner of the evening: no mean achievement at all. This was a most enjoyable and, yes, productively different evening. Now we can look forward to a new series of concerts starting in the autumn.

Mark Berry

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