Splendid Valedictory Strauss from Bramwell Tovey and Adrianne Pieczonka

25/01/2017

CanadaCanada 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.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! LPO’s ‘Summer Sessions’ – four hour-long chamber concerts every 2nd Wednesday from 15 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! ACCOMPANIST OR PARTNER? PIANIST SUSIE ALLAN IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN QUINN __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month