Dido and Aeneas/ Bluebeard's Castle
In what was a very readable programme to accompany this double bill from Oper Frankfurt, the note from director Barrie Kosky uses just 13 different words, in different combinations, to explain the connection between these two operas in seven lines. It says ample to justify the double-bill of two seemingly distant works, separated by two centuries of development of the artform.
The Purcell was played entirely "in front of the cloth" as they would have said in this theatre's days as a palace of varieties, and yet was the more lavish of the two, the gloriously-costumed singers spilling into the auditorium and the orchestra pit, evoking the claustrophobia of court. The constraints of the staging, and some wonderful lighting, kept the focus on Irish soprano Paula Murrihy's delicious Dido, even when the trio of counter-tenors (Martin Wolfel, Dmitry Egorov and Roland Schneider as Sorceress and Witches) threatened to steal the limelight. For her heart-rending Lament, Dido was abandoned not just by Sebastian Geyer's Aeneas but by the entire company and then the orchestra, in what was as moving a conclusion to the opera as I expect ever to see.
That left the Bartok with a hard act to follow, and Robert Hayward's Bluebeard and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner's Judith had only their own resources to draw on in an austere staging that placed them in dark suits under clinical light on a vast bare circular podium inclined on the theatre's huge playing area, The doors in this staging are ones of perception and the couple's fine performance of the roles - and the superb playing of the orchestra under Constantinos Carydis - did not quite manage to reach the heights of the evening's first half.
I SHOULD point out that Japanese violinist Midori, in her comprehensive performances of Bach's unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas for violin on Thursday and Saturday, included in each concert a short contemporary work for violin and electronics. Thursday's was a characteristically intense memorial to Shostakovich by Schnittke.
Saturday's piece, by Mario Davidovsky, was the ninth in a series of Synchronisms, where the dynamic relationship between acoustic violin and computer electronics was amazing, with a near-theatrical series of exchanges in which Midori demonstrated another facet of her genius.
The over-riding impression of her Bach playing on Saturday, in the wonderful Second Sonata and in both Partitas, came in a single thought: "We're hearing Bach; only Bach: she's not getting in the way." By which I mean this: she bobs and weaves as she plays; there is a certain physicality to the business of playing. But she's not putting on a show. There's no ego or performer-dominated presence. We're just hearing Bach, played with purity and clarity.
Now, largely she played without vibrato. Should we applaud this as it's fashionable? No; fashion is irrelevant. What Midori has achieved is a triumph of content over style. The aching tenderness in the third movement of the Sonata wasn't Midori imposing. It was Bach. Midori didn't put it in: she brought it out. And however exciting all those teeming scales and tumbling arpeggios in the Partitas might have seemed, they were in fact compact and economic; and that's the way they were written by Bach. It takes a musician of Midori's stature to realise them and let Bach speak. Her art is the exact antithesis of hollow virtuosity.
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/Zinman
LISTENING keenly on Saturday night to David Zinman's Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, which I'm not sure I've ever heard live before, a question arose in my mind: is there such a thing as a Swiss sound? I have absolutely no idea. There is a German sound, for sure; and certainly a French one. And most definitely there is a Russian sound; or there was in the days of Soviet Russia. But Swiss? What would it be like?
I don't know if it has Swiss characteristics, or if it's the work of Zinman and other conductors, but the sound of the Tonhalle Orchestra on Saturday night was quietly sumptuous in Brahms's Violin Concerto, with gleaming strings, mellow woodwinds, golden brass that never overblew and an ensemble that was very closely knit, without sounding pressured or at all driven.
It was absolutely lovely, and entirely appropriate to the rich performance of the Brahms by violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, who just floated his sound over this gorgeous Tonhalle magic carpet: I thought my heart would stop with the sheer beauty of the slow movement.
Zinman's Bruckner Three would have delighted serious Bruckner addicts. It was a dyed-in-the wool architectural interpretation, with the symphony assembled at great leisure, block by block, meticulously stop-go-start-again, stop again; do all that several times then do it again. Go forward three steps and back two. Before you know it you've got a 20-minute symphonic movement and not much has happened. Not my taste, but it was very well done.
St Cecilia's Hall
"I promise not to break the harpsichord," Christophe Rousset said with a twinkle in his eye as he sat down to play the first of two encores. The instrument was a certain Taskin 1769 - the prize of Edinburgh University's Russell Collection and arguably the most famous harpsichord in the world. Rousset called it '"mythical", though that didn't stop him from hammering out a showpiece by Pancrace Roye called Le Vertigo, a bit like a double-time French baroque version of Chopsticks. There's something impish about Rousset. Surrounded by so many special keyboard instruments he was every bit the connoisseur, of course, but also a kid in a sweetie shop.
Rousset's three International Festival recitals have been a good run as much for the Russell Collection as for Rousset himself, bringing much deserved attention to this world-class resource. His final programme opened on a 1709 English Barton, a lovely little walnut number whose mellow, loosely-tuned, slightly boozy tone gave elegance and a rough edge to suites by Froberger, Purcell and Louis Couperin. But Rousset saved the best until last. In terms of resonance and beefiness of low register, the Taskin blows the others out of the water. We heard an E-minor suite by Rameau with a sultry-slow Allemande, a bagpipe-drone Musette and birds bickering in crisp high notes in Le Rappel Des Oiseaux. Rousset finished with music by Balbastre, whose burly, percussive bass lines in La d'Hericourt and La Lugeac sounded in their element on the mighty Taskin.