The week in classic: Mavra/Pierrot lunaire; LSO/ Tilson Thomas; Gabrieli/ McCreesh | Classical music
On paper, Stravinsky’s one-act opera mavra (1922) has everything from cross-dressing to sharp repartee. At just 25 minutes, it gives four singers a chance to show off their comedy chops at top speed. You guessed it. In the theater, it seems twice as long and inert. The Paris premiere failed. Stravinsky defended it, but it remains an oddity. The Royal Opera Jette Parker Young Artists Program is as close as it gets to turning it into a silk handbag. This chamber version (by Paul Phillips), directed by Anthony Almeida, designed by Rosanna Vize and performed by Britten Sinfonia, is paired with Schoenberg Lunar Pierrotdirected by Michael Papadopoulos at the Linbury Theatre.
Based on Pushkin, mavra tells the story of a poor widow and her pretty daughter, who need a new maid. The girl, Parasha (April Koyejo-Audiger), plots with her soldier boyfriend, Vasily (Egor Zhuravskii), to put him under her roof. Vasily must become Mavra. “She” staggers wearing red heels, loose dresses and long red braids: it’s not a standard servant’s outfit, but she looks fabulous. Sarah Pring (mother) and Idunnu Münch (neighbor) skillfully complete the quartet. Bright, stiff 1960s-style dresses, crazy wigs, a pile of green trash bags and a dizzying expanse of rose-covered wallpaper helped pass the time.
Elements of mavra reappeared in Lunar Pierrot (1912), including a spherical lamp, to represent the moon in this mind-blowing melodrama for speaker and small ensemble. Soprano Alexandra Lowe delivered the harrowing sung speech (Sprechgesang) with well-drilled flair and a sense of improvisation. Schoenberg’s twilight score has been made uncharacteristically sultry by the Britten Sinfonia. Special mention to the flautist Thomas Hancoxwho braved the scene – having to step back in near-darkness, while playing (from memory) – like he was born for her.
At the Barbican last Sunday there was first anticipation as more and more London Symphony Orchestra players thronged the Barbican stage. Then came the action: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (1904), conducted by Michel TilsonThomas and ignited by the LSO’s new solo trumpet, James Fountain. Still in his early twenties, Fountain now occupies a central place in the British orchestra (his illustrious predecessors include trumpet legend Maurice Murphy). On this evidence, assured and pure, Fountain is a brilliant rendezvous. The instrument dominates the symphony, which opens with a mournful solo fanfare and never quite loses that sense of foreboding.
Live music on this scale, requiring nearly 100 players, was virtually absent from the lockdown. It’s hard to imagine that we will again take his presence for granted. Tilson Thomas shaped Mahler’s broad outlines with clarity, yielding and overpowering, without indulgence or schmaltz. The LSO in response, as if overwhelmed by the occasion, at times let savagery trump precision, but it made for a thrilling narrative. For the first three movements, the conductor’s score was closed on the music stand, like an encouraging talisman. Tilson Thomas recently announced his decision to cut concerts due to serious health problems. Superficial parallels with Mahler, preoccupied with his own mortality while writing this symphony, inevitably came to mind, but MTT didn’t care. He simply waved a fist in the air in greeting, still professional, and began.
At the beginning of the Adagietto, he finally opened the score, using it for the rest of the work. This famous fourth movement (immortalized, if necessary, by Visconti in his film Death in Venice), was the highlight, the tender but not gloomy atmosphere. The finale, a major affirmation, was met with cheers, with the audience on their feet. Before the Mahler, Lukas Vondracek was a haunting soloist, sometimes poetic, sometimes devilish, in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat. If sometimes he seemed to follow his own path, why not, in this uneven and eccentric work? We were held in suspense.
This year’s theme London Baroque Music Festival is Venice. The event kicked off last weekend in St John’s Smith Square with the splendid coronation of the 89th Doge, Marino Grimani, in 1595, as re-enacted by Paul McCreesh and gabrielli, his wife of players and singers. Cornets and drums, sackbuts and organs, and vocal ensembles of varying sizes, clustered and clustered in the galleries and aisles, evoking the nobler spaces and sacred atmosphere of St. Mark’s Venice. The music was by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, and Cesare Bendinelli. It is familiar ground for these exceptional musicians who perform it often and have recorded it twice. They take him to Manchester (July 12) and York (July 13). Go and let yourself be transported. Not quite La Serenissima, but close.
Star ratings (out of five)
Mavra/Pierrot Lunar ★★★
LSO/Tilson Thomas ★★★★
A Venetian coronation ★★★★
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