Oh, everyone blames Boulez! (He's the default faulted.) Never mind Toscanini's performances in the '30s & '40s, never mind Ansermet's, never mind Desormiere's: it's all Boulez' fault! The simple matter is that earlier performances suffered from under-rehearsed orchestral players not being able to count or play quintuplets! (That and boxy Mono sound of the early recordings). Boulez was amongst the first to get players to play what was written and record it in decent stereo: there's no fundamental change in tempo, rhythm or texture than those recorded by Ansermet. The reason why modern performances sound "clinical" isn't because all subsequent conductors have kissed the feet of Boulez; it's because you're hearing it LIVE!
Originally Posted by ardcarp
And Debussy was more influenced by the Symbolist poets than by the Impressionist painters: his visual preference was for the Japanese woodblock prints of Hokusai and others - try getting a "blurred and fuzzy" line with a woodcut!
Could this performance usurp the most perfect example of live music making I have ever witnessed? This was at Covent Garden in 2007, with Simon Keenlyside and Angela Kirchschlager in the title roles, Gerald Finley as Golaud, and Simon Rattle in the pit. In a word, no.
Last night Philip Addis was superb as Pelleas, indeed better than Keenlyside (high praise indeed, Keenlyside's darker voice is not natural for the high baritone register required for the role). Pelleas too easily can come over as a bit of a drip, but here he grew from shy awkward youth to (albeit thwarted) ardency. Karen Vourc'h impressed too as Melisande, providing delicacy, fragility, alarm. But this was a classical portrayal of the role as a victim of circumstances, so nothing revelatory here. Laurent Naouri as Golaud cast a gloomy threatening presence throughout, but seemed too one-dimensional, the voice lacked colouration, perhaps this comes with a concert rather than a theatrical production. Golaud is dangerous, unstable and a murderer, not just a lugubrious moper. It saddens me to say that John Tomlinson now spoils productions in which he performs. Arkel is not a big or particularly taxing role, but his is the only voice of sympathy and reason throughout all the ellipsis that this elusive libretto contains. Its importance is therefore disproportionate to its length and is crucial to a successful rendition of the work. Arkel's are the last words of the piece, and should be heartrendingly poignant. Tomlinson's voice was frayed, loud and now contains an intrusive beat- ruinous to the hushed reverential tone of the work's conclusion.
Eliot Gardiner eschewed vibrato. I mean it as a compliment to say that the ORR string section did not sound like a school band. The
woodwind section sometimes played beautifully, the brass too often did not. JEG failed to generate sufficient mystery or texture in the rendition. The horns, so important for winding up the tension in the spying scene were inaudible, though not in other sections. The magical repeated chord on high strings which follows Pelleas' 'the ice has been broken with red hot irons' should emerge like a gently swelling zephyr from silence, then recede back into silence. Rattle nailed it, twice: JEG just played the notes (hear also Haitink for how it can be done in a live performance). The sickly cor anglais accompaniment to Pelleas' revealing that there is famine in the land was merely sour. I could go on about these tiny details, but it is the summation of such moments that makes a great performance.
This is possibly the hardest opera to bring off. It has no big moments for the principals, no big tunes for the orchestra. Rather it provides a gorgeous unfolding tapestry of understatement and evanescence. The delicate etiolated tone is difficult to capture, but it can be done. Last night we just got wanness. But let's be positive, it was worth going to hear and witness Philip Addis in an unforgettable and glorious performance.
Thankyou for that report Belgrove.
I would only remark further that JEG will have had to take some account of performing in the RAH - hardly a typical opera or concert acoustic, so will surely have tried to project the sound differently. Listening at home the orchestra was granted both immediacy and subtlety, which may account for our different perception of the strings; I relished their beauty and variety of texture throughout. The horns appear to have been more audible here too - there were many instances of hushed details therein and generally - I was often astonished - and moved - by how quietly audible the playing was.
Still, we seem to be in broad agreement about the singers, and I won't even hint at a moan about listening at home again...
Hey all - long time listener, second time poster. I'm currently doing an insane blog where I am attempting to listen to every piece of music in the June 2012 of Gramophone Magazine (because it's there!) but I'm taking time out to review the odd prom. My review of this one is here...
Interesting idea. Good luck.
Interesting is the nicest way anyone has out it so far...
Originally Posted by Eine Alpensinfonie