A Loeffler Discovery and a Charlotte Bray Premiere Impress in Aix-en-Provence

18/07/2018

FranceFrance Festival d’Aix-en-Provence [1], ‘L’Alto à l’honneur’ – Loeffler, Bray, Liszt, Kodály, and Brahms: Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Andrea Hill (soprano), Edwige Herchenroder (piano). Conservatoire Darius Milhaud, Aix, 13.7.2018. (MB)

Tabea Zimmermann (c) Marco Borggreve

Tabea Zimmermann (c) Marco Borggreve

Charles Martin Loeffler – Quatre poèmes, op.5
Charlotte Bray – In Black Light (world premiere)
Liszt – Romance oubliée, S 132
Kodály – Adagio for viola and piano
Brahms – Zwei Gesänge, op.91

An oddly patchy concert, this: alongside the most unidiomatic professional Liszt performance I can recall and only intermittently successful Brahms, we heard a highly convincing world premiere and fine performances of two other works hitherto unknown to me: one indeed written by a composer of whom I had not previously heard. That composer was Charles Martin Loeffler, one of the works his Quatre poèmes, op.5 of 1893. Or should that have been Karl Martin Loeffler? So consumed with hatred, it seems, had the young Karl been for Germany that, even following his emigration to the USA, he would claim to have been born not Prussian but Alsatian and changed his name accordingly. Quatre poèmes was doubtless chosen because it would involve all three musicians performing in this concert, but it seemed to me on a single hearing fully to justify inclusion on merit. One heard, aptly enough, what seemed to be a largely yet not exclusively German sense of harmony with a more French taste in verse, melody, and sometimes texture too. The first song, a setting of Baudelaire’s La Cloche fêlée, seemed to mediate both as work and performance between Duparc and Brahms, Tabea Zimmermann’s viola-playing – Loeffler was an early enthusiast for the viola d’amore – becoming more Romantically ardent as the piece demanded or suggested. It offered development in a more conventionally instrumental sense, yet seemed also to have something of a Franco-Flemish (Franck, perhaps soon Debussy too) taste for the cyclical. It certainly convinced, moreover, as a response to the poem. The Verlaine ‘Dansons la gigue’ was gypsy-like – at least in a nineteenth-century sense – whilst also seemingly responding to Carmen in its more reflective moments. Verlaine was also the poet for the remaining two pieces. An atmosphere of general sadness, relieved somewhat by finely spun piano arabesques from Edwige Herchenrode, characterised ‘Le Son du cor s’afflige vers les bois’. The vocal line in the closing ‘Sérénade’, and Andrea Hill’s delivery of it, hinted at la vieille France, but this was no pastiche, instead a dramatic evocation of another time, ‘mandoline’ and all. I even fancied there were suggestions of the darker Ravel: presentiments, though, given the date. Fascinating: I shall be keen to hear more Loeffler.

I have always been keen to hear more Charlotte Bray too. The world premiere of In Black Light, for solo viola, furthered that keenness. It struck me as having some aspects of variational form – developing variation if you will, but also something more ‘traditional’ than that – within an overarching framework that has something of what would once have called a tone poem to it. Rhythms and intervals help generate style and idea. Following a grave opening of (relative) pitch extremes, a broad canvas emerges, upon which composer and performer alike offer a commanding variety of musical strokes: one section ‘jagged and fiery’ (Bray), another ‘a kind of broken waltz’, another ‘a mysterious pizzicato miniature’, and so on: related yet contrasting. The rhythmic profile is certainly sharp – and was certainly sharp in Zimmermann’s commanding performance, clearly highly attuned to the work’s contours and expressive requirements. The opening theme’s return did indeed sound, to quote the composer again, ‘urgently present and expressively charged’.

Liszt’s Romance oubliée has always seemed to me – perhaps unsurprisingly – superior in its piano solo version. That, however, is no reason to shun any of its others, especially when ‘actual’ Liszt chamber music is so thin on the ground, the composer’s tendency being, not unlike Wagner’s, to write chamber music within works for larger forces. The opening solo line certainly suits the viola, yet this proved for violist and pianist alike a strangely constricted performance, tentative to the point of incoherence. Kodály’s Adagio, first written for violin, then arranged for viola, proved much more Zimmermann and Herchenroder’s thing. Its darkly Romantic opening sounded almost Elgarian – at least to this Englishman. Zimmermann spun a rich, yet far from indulgent line, which enabled the material to develop in far from predictable fashion. If her pianist seemed very much the ‘accompanist’, she performed well in that role. As she did in the two closing Brahms songs; to begin with, indeed, we might have been about to hear a newly discovered sonata for viola and piano. Taken as a whole, though, those performances might have been more attuned to the songs’ form. Lack of direction, even meandering, married to a reticent way with the words (Rückert’s) from Hill sometimes made for heavy Brahmsian weather. If only they had been performed as if written by Loeffler.

Mark Berry

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall’s 2020-2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! London’s Wigmore Hall in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tamara Rojo’s new Raymonda and ENB in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • NEW! Transitions Dance Company’s 2020 UK Tour from 21 Feb – 6 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Aldeburgh Festival from 12 – 28 June 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers 2020 from 29 April to 16 May in Leicester __________________________________
  • NEW! Beethoven 250 at London’s Barbican __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and more in Buenos Aires during 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Beethoven 250 at London’s Southbank Centre __________________________________
  • Saffron Hall in February – August 2020 __________________________________
  • Bampton Classical Opera in 2020 – Gluck’s Paris and Helen __________________________________
  • Surrey’s Grange Park Opera in 2020 __________________________________
  • The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! YAN PASCAL TORTELIER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH SARDINIAN TENOR PIERO PRETTI __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH UKRAINIAN SOPRANO LIUDMYLA MONASTYRSKA __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH CHINESE SOPRANO HUI HE __________________________________
  • NEW AND UPDATED! BEST OF 2019 FROM SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR TOM HAMMOND IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR HERVÉ NIQUET INTERVIEWED ABOUT GRÉTRY’S RICHARD, COEUR DE LION __________________________________
  • PIANIST JAMES LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month