Die Winterreise

An early birthday present from my in-laws this last Monday: a ticket to hear Mark Padmore sing Schubert’s Die Winterreise in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral, as a part of the Lichfield Festival, wonderfully accompanied by Paul Lewis. It was wonderful.  Padmore, who is better know as for Bach/Handel repertoire (he is currently the Evangelist of choice for Bach passions) stepped into this very different music with utter conviction.  The most impressive aspect was the sheer range of his voice.  I knew from recordings just how pure the top end of the voice was, but he was completely secure in the lower register that is so crucial for this song cycle.  Above all, the feeling was of being taken on a journey into a ever-deeper darkness, which as many note, ends in the hushed tones of the final song: Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man).  Padmore sang this song and its predecessor, Die Nebensonnen, with such intensity that I was on the edge of my seat.

Anyway, all of which is an excuse to post some YouTube clips for those who are interested, or who might want to get a feel for what I am wittering on about.

First the voice.  Here is Mark Padmore singing Bach BWV 0179: Cantata “Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei” (roughly translated as “make sure that your fear of God does not become hypocrisy”).  The tenor recitative and aria start at about 3:13 in.

Then, for good measure, here is part 2 of the same Cantata, with the glorious Magdalena Kozena kicking in about 2 minutes in:

Then to the music. Here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Der Leiermann, the final song in Die Winterreise (subtitles provided):

Rowan Williams on Bach

This coming Sunday and the next I will be skipping church in order to  listen to Angela Hewitt play the Well-Tempered Clavier – 1 Book per Sunday (her recordings of the Preludes and Fugues are now available at a bargain price).  But I have decided that it is OK to miss church for Bach, because Archbishop of Canterbury says so:

"I think it was Iris Murdoch who said of Bach's music that it arrogantly
demands our contemplation, that's to say it doesn't just allow itself
to be background music, it doesn't let you sit back. And there's
something in that because performing Bach is, I think, inexorably a
matter of spiritual attention. It does demand a kind of selflessness,
it does demand a kind of intentness, it does things to you. The
passions involve you, they don't just let you sit back, you have to
take part, you have to become an 'I' in the story, but even very brief
pieces change you, they unpredictably lead you into territories where
you felt you hadn't chosen to go. So, it's very difficult to know how
you would characterise Bach as a religious composer, he's not just a
composer who sets religious texts, he's a composer who sees all his
music as a kind of spiritual exercise. And although performers and
listeners may not share his own confessional convictions, I think it's
very difficult to listen to Bach without that sense that we are being
invited to change your life."

Matthew Passion

Its Holy Week…I went to hear the Halle (orchestra, choir and junior choir) do the Matthew Passion last night.  I came away thinking that one probably ought to be a Christian for the simple reason that you are grateful that the story of Jesus can inspire music like this – in fact, even if you don’t believe in God, you should become a Christian as a way of saying thank you to Bach, it would be the polite thing to do.

If you don’t have a clue what I am on about, then listen to what, for me, is the most sublime aria in a work that is sublime throughout (sung last night by Carolyn Sampson who looked as if her heart was going to break)

Here are the words:
Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben,        Out of love my Savior wants to die,
Von einer Sünde weiß er nichts                 He knows nothing of a single sin,
Daß das ewigen Verderben                         so that the eternal destruction
und die Strafe des Gerichts                         and the punishment of judgment
Nicht auf meiner Seele bliebe.               would not remain upon my soul.

When I Looked at You, I Heard Strange Music

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod  so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.  Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”   The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;   he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.   The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother."

Those few verses from Matthew, when refracted through the fertile mind of Oscar Wilde and the musical genius of Richard Strauss, become "Salome".  I went to hear the BBC Philharmonic give a concert performance at the Bridgewater Hall tonight, and am still recovering.  No time to summarize the plot, or analyse the themes of the work, although what struck me was how the disordered and misdirected desire that shapes the characterization of everyone on stage: from the opening ‘How beautiful is Princess Salome tonight’ through to the final "I have kissed your mouth Jochanaan", is only confronted from beyond the narrative by the repeated references to Jesus.

But what a performance.  Wonderful, powerful, headache-inducing playing from the orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda, with a great Herod in Peter  Bronder (whom I would love to hear sing Mime).  But the star turn was Salome in the person of Nicola Beller Carbone.  I haven’t heard such a strong vocal performance for ages (ignoring the  early entry in the middle of the chaos, effectively dealt with by Noseda’s hand).  She was amazing.

Don’t believe me?  Well listen for yourself because Radio 3 are broadcasting this very performance on Wednesday.