Germany Ninth Monday Concert: Soloists of the Bavarian State Ballet and Bavarian State Orchestra, Günther Groissböck (bass), Gerold Huber (piano), Live stream from the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, 1.6.2020. (MMB)
Minkus and Petipa – Don Quixote, Act I solo and Act II pas de deux with Virna Toppi, Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta (principal dancers of the Bavaria State Ballet)
Cerha – Nachtstücke, with soloists from the Bavaria State Orchestra
Mozart – Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov – various songs, performed by Günther Groissböck (bass), Gerold Huber (piano)
On the evening of Monday 1 June, Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) gave us another excellent, eclectic, and engaging Monday Concert via Live Stream – their ninth.
It began with excerpts from the ballet Don Quixote, music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Marius Petipa, danced by principals of the Bayerische Staatsballet (Bavarian State Ballet). We were treated first to Kitri’s solo from Act I, spiritedly performed by Italy’s Virna Toppi who has an outstanding technique and cuts an extremely elegant line especially in her attitude and pirouettes. She was exuberant, almost flamboyant in some of the jumps and with an assured technique, as well as very graceful when en pointe. She exuded happiness and joy, making one feel good at the end of her all too brief performance.
Toppi was followed by principals Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta, respectively from the UK and Cuba. British audiences will know Yonah’s famous uncle, Carlos Acosta – outstanding principal of The Royal Ballet for many years and also an excellent choreographer. Lauretta and Yonah are married to each other and therefore in the same household, which means they were able to perform together. In order to avoid criticism by someone who might not know they are a couple, the presenter on stage, who always introduces these live Monday Concerts from the Bavarian State Opera, went out of his way to explain this.
Laurretta and Yonah danced the famous grand pas de deux from Act II of Don Quixote. Their performance was simply wonderful, full of gaiety, beauty and with great technical quality. Laurretta is extremely graceful and technically good though she was a little insecure finishing her famous solo during the pas de deux but able to hold it well in the end. There is great chemistry and fluidity in hers and Yonah’s dancing when they perform together. He is outstanding and a tad above her – with great amplitude in his jumps, lightness and easiness of step, assured spins, and a natural underlined elegance that enhances every one of his movements. The two together were a real delight and a pleasure to watch.
Next, five leading musicians from the Bayerische Staatsorchester came on stage to perform a piece by Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha (b.1926). The work is entitled Nachtstücke and was written in 1992. The soloists – So-Young Kim and Ginshi Saito (violins), Daniel Schmitt (viola), Emanuel Graf (cello), and Alexandra Hengstebeck (double bass) – were simply outstanding and the piece was supremely well executed. I am sorry to say that I am not a big fan of Cerha’s music but still enjoyed the excellent performance by the five musicians. They followed Cerha’s work with the ever fresh and delightful Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart – one of my favourite composers. Although this is a piece that has been performed and recorded countless times, made even more popular on (rather terrible) mobile ring tones, as played by these musicians of the Bayerische Staatsorchester it sounded crisp, joyful, moving and almost original. It was a polished, sophisticated and tasteful performance of a piece that can sometimes sound ‘tired’. They injected it with a new life, style, and elegance. A marvellous performance that I truly relished.
The third and final part of this great concert was a rather special and unusual treat with twelve selected songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov – six by each composer. These were performed by Austrian bass Günther Groissböck, accompanied on the piano by Gerold Huber. I must say that the singing here had what some people would call the ‘wow’ factor. Groissböck has an extraordinary voice and one of the most beautiful bass sounds I have ever heard. It is natural, colourful, sonorous, powerful, and irresistibly warm. His phrasing is refined, with great elegance and if you thought that beautiful singing (as in bel canto) could only be performed by flexible female voices or certain outstanding tenors (such as Germany’s Jonas Kaufmann or Peru’s Juan Diego Flórez), well then, think again. I have seldom heard a performance by a bass that I liked so much, as this is not one of my favourite voice types.
Groissböck was on phenomenal form and his performance of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov songs was simply and truly marvellous. This is not a repertoire that I am very familiar with and I have only occasionally heard it sung by Russian singers (as for example the late and wonderful Dmitri Hvorostovsky) and I must say that Groissböck was second to none. His interpretation was heartfelt and beautiful. He displayed an exceptional technique, breath control, and dramatic expression with just the perfect level of emotion. His legato line is remarkable and his pianissimo, his forte, as well as his crescendo or diminuendo are just terrific. I have very limited knowledge of the Russian language, but it appeared to me that his pronunciation was spot on and that he enunciates with great clarity and precision. Gerold Huber on the piano was up to his task and splendidly accompanied and supported Groissböck’s fantastic voice.
At the end, Groissböck and Huber offered the audience, as he put it, a ‘little’ encore. This little encore was no less than the gorgeous and poignant Phillip II’s aria ‘Ella giammai m’amò’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo. Groissböck introduced it by saying, ‘we have prepared a little encore for you all, the lovely public forced to stay away from the opera house. This piece won’t sound as good as it should because it is usually with orchestra, choir and audience, which we very much miss, but we still wanted to do it.’ I have no doubt everyone watching and listening to the concert felt privileged to witness the encore. Groissböck’s unforced sound created an interpretation that was exquisitely beautiful and so moving, I had tears in my eyes. A perfect ending to a magnificent evening of music and singing.
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