2006 – 2007
This page presents reviews of the performances that took place in 2006 and 2007. We would like to express our gratitude to the authors for their invaluable contributions.
Copyright notice: The reviews published on this page are the intellectual property of the respective contributors and are subject to UK and International Copyright Laws. Their use/reproduction without the authors’ explicit permission is illegal.
Grande Messe des morts in San Diego
By Mary Weber
Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego
San Diego Symphony
San Diego Master Chorale (director and coach: Martin Wright)
Vinson Cole (tenor)
conductor: Jahja Ling
Performance date: 19 May 2007
San Diego isn’t Paris or London, but I believe that our San Diego Symphony and Master Chorale under the direction of Jahja Ling offered a fine performance of Berlioz’s Requiem to the Master. Vinson Cole sang a “Sanctus” of aetherial beauty which perhaps came a little short of being under perfect control, but was nevertheless tender and arresting. I hadn’t realised what an effort the tenor must make to sing in such an elevated key.
The chorale could have used more voices (I counted 139 on the membership roster. However, there was actually no more room on the stage for more people.) and was a little rough around the edges in the softer, more feeling-laden passages, but belted out the “Tuba mirum”, “Rex tremendae majestatis” and “Lacrymosa” with considerable power.
Symphony Hall is a fine old twenties-era theatre, beautifully restored. The ceiling in the auditorium is enormously high. The walls are carved old wood painted pale green. The stage was backed with oak panelling. Here’s the interesting part: as in the Royal Albert Hall in London, the old theatre has a balcony, enormous and very steep. At a level with perhaps the highest rows in the balcony and on either side of it run corridors behind the wall and open to the auditorium. There two of the four brass choirs were placed, so they could trumpet right down onto the main floor. The other two were on either end of the balcony, high above our seats in the second row. We balcony dwellers were BLASTED, and the effect was tremendously exciting. We actually couldn’t hear the strings whenever the brass choirs were playing, although listeners on the auditorium main floor would have had a better sound balance.
A novel experience was seeing the conductor, while in the midst of conducting, actually turning completely around toward the audience to cue the brass choirs. We had the impression that he was cueing us to join in!
An especially inspired decision, I thought, was to put Vinson Cole up on that same high perch used by the brass choirs so he could sing out to the entire theatre. His location, however, was a bit awkward for Maestro Ling! I realised for the first time that the tenor part, though difficult, is rather brief. Tenors must enjoy their well-paid trips to symphonies to sing this requiem!
One rather unusual effect was that the trumpets and trombones played all their subsequent parts from their balcony locations. When they were to accompany and blend in, the harmony didn’t work as well for those of us in the balcony. The ultra-low notes the trombones played were especially noticeable. (However, there was no room on the main stage for more brass, had the orchestra had them!)
All in all, the experience was highly enjoyable. The venue is lovely and the acoustics terrific. I’m fortunate to have been a witness to the bringing to vivid life of this powerful masterpiece in such a setting and in such an accomplished performance.
San Diego, California
20 May, 2007
Deum in Birmingham
By Sue Vernon
Birmingham Symphony Hall, 18 November 2006
I have had the great privilege of hearing Thomas Trotter perform on several organs over the years - he has long been a favourite – but I never dreamed I would hear him perform Berlioz’s music.
So, Saturday night was almost too good to be true, though it was hardly without a few problems for Birmingham’s Symphony Hall as they were struggling with the technicalities of the dual organ consoles. This resulted in Mr Trotter having to take his place at the helm of the huge Klais organ rather than on the stage as planned.
However, undeterred by any problems, (they had also had a power cut the previous night which left them without enough rehearsal time) it was obvious from the very first bars of music that Berlioz’s amazing Te Deum was going to get a performance that was second to none – I mean that quite literally. The choirs were ranged around the orchestra, with a wonderfully crisp and enthusiastic junior choir; I think there must have been around 300-350 choristers altogether.
Held together by conductor Adrian Lucas, the outstanding chorus master from Worcester Cathedral, and utilising the acoustics of the Symphony Hall, the music was utterly glorious, there is no other word for it. This must surely have been exactly how Berlioz must have wished his Te Deum to sound. Majestic, powerful, yet gentle and exquisite. The CBSO were also on their very top form and I was surprised to hear from a very knowledgeable lady that this was the first time this work had been heard in Symphony Hall – I think the orchestra relished every moment.
It is so hard for me to write about music, and I would struggle to convey how Thomas Trotter, with such great control and sympathy for the work he was performing, turned this vast symphony hall into a church - but that’s what he did. The choirs were perfect – I had been chatting to one of the choir before the concert – she was in ecstasy about Berlioz’s writing for the voice, but so worried her voice wouldn’t hold out; I don’t think she need have worried.
I have one small quibble, the tenor Adrian Thompson, was possibly not the best choice for Te Ergo Quaesumus, though his is a good strong voice, he used too much vibrato in its execution, and I thought his singing technique was rather like that of Jose Carreras, who I always feel just aims his voice at the notes and arrives there more or less ... not quite right for Berlioz, but a brave try. It couldn’t and didn’t spoil a wonderful overall performance.
The Te Deum is never heard to its full potential on CD – every time I hear it live I am convinced of that.
This concert, of all the many times I have heard this work, was the most magnificent Te Deum I have ever heard. I wish you had all been there, and I wish I could have captured the whole thing somehow to take out again and again over the years.
Berlioz at Hollywood Bowl – Funeral and Triumphal Symphony
By John Ahouse
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Granada Hills High School Highlander Marching Band
Conductor: Bramwell Tovey
Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood – 1, 3 August 2006
After his first visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and pleased to find that such cultural amenities had preceded his own move from the American Midwest, novelist Hamlin Garland noted, "This is America at its best." and Garland wrote before the great days of the Bowl, when Max Reinhardt staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the surrounding slopes, or a generation of displaced European musicians, Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, and Heifetz, with Walter or Klemperer on the podium, sustained their musical world during the war years. Later the Bowl would redesign its famous acoustic shell several times while expanding its artistic base to include Sinatra and the Beatles and an annual fireworks display.
Still, the concert on August 1st (repeated on the 3rd) of this year brought something new from the realm of the spectacular when conductor Bramwell Tovey (Vancouver Symphony) programmed the Funeral and Triumphal Symphony of Berlioz in an approximation of its origins in the open air.
Before an audience said to number 8000, Tovey’s pacing of the work, at 34 minutes seemed well-judged. The electronically-enhanced sound was generally balanced, overcoming a chronic problem at the Bowl, even if it lacked weight commensurate with what the eye took in. The orchestral players, drawn from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, filled the stage along with a mixed chorus of eighty, but where was the band? The trombone soloist, standing next to the conductor, executed the Oraison with great sweetness of expression, just as it should be. And at the first notes of the fanfare, a local marching band in full ornamental regalia (green and gold) filed in briskly from both sides of the stage to add to the spectacle even if their contribution could not readily be separated from the massed sound of chorus and orchestra.
Tovey saw to it that the Apotheosis crowned the work and did not seem like a patriotic afterthought. Only his prefatory comments were disappointingly weightless, as if Management had said, "This is a pleasant summer evening. Go light on the funeral stuff; tell them something funny instead."
With the aid of the giant picture screens, the conductor called for a
demonstration of the "Jingling Johnny". Explaining that
"Turkish" armies used to shake such bells at their enemies to
terrorize them with the unearthly sound, Tovey had his percussionist rattle it
sharply in the direction of the chorus (already onstage). The female choristers
uttered a short scream, for all the world like the outburst of women’s voices
in the Course à l’abîme.
The symphony could proceed.
Harold en Italie in Dublin
By Kevin O’Neill
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
Conductor: Alan Buribayev; soloist: Yuri Bashmet (viola)
National Concert Hall, Dublin. Friday 3 February 2006
A rather Byronic evening was how one could describe what I listened to and witnessed here. The programme consisted of a pair of works that were inspired by Lord Byron, Berlioz – Harold en Italie Op.16 and Tchaikovsky – Manfred Op.58.
I. Harold aux montagnes:
The opening bars mostly coming from the basses, and winds conveyed a sense of calm, danger and foreboding with a rather strange feeling almost like someone painting a landscape with dark clouds in the background denoting a kind of Dissonance. When the viola (Harold) came in it was like a ‘wanderer’ walking and taking in the serene environs surrounding him. Yuri Bashmet had the score in front of him. He was consistent and superb and was turning the pages like a storyteller narrating a story or a drama/dramatic scene. The crescendos or diminuendos among the strings, winds, brass and timpani gave me a feeling of excitement and, with the viola included, it was like watching a fairytale unfold. One could almost feel reminiscence from the first movement of the Symphonie fantastique. A bit like a calm/storm combination.
II. Marche des pèlerins:
The winds had quite a prominent role along with the strings and viola. The slowness, mf and the occasional diminuendo made me feel that these "pilgrims" were marching along in a relaxed and pastoral manner. The absence of the forte style brass and timpani gave this movement a sense of innocence. The use of the harps was like a chime of a clock from a village or town hall. Very serene and relaxed.
Again the prominent role of the winds especially the oboes, bassoon and cor anglais portrayed a feeling of happiness, jollity and merrymaking. One could listen to or make out echoes either looking back to the Scène aux champs from the Symphonie fantastique or looking forward to the Menuet des follets from La Damnation de Faust. The winds had a rather hop, skip and jump approach in showing the jollity. A very sans souci interpretation, which for me captured the freedom and enjoyment the movement seems to allow.
IV. Orgie des brigands:
The sudden staccato fright introduction of the brass and timpani followed by the bass recalled the danger and dare feeling of the first movement. Throughout this movement (without stating the obvious) the viola seemed to be redundant but I didn’t feel annoyed at all. The viola (Harold) is not a brigand and is innocent of the rather violent nature and the mf/ff sound that the brass and timpani gave, logically speaking, doesn’t fit with a movement or portrayal of violent scoundrels. Sometimes I am almost baffled why Paganini didn’t want to play the viola part in this symphony especially bearing in mind that it is one of THE major works for solo viola. The suddenness and staccato type fright of the brass and timpani was note perfect and their neat precision captivated me to such an extent it would almost have made me jump! Quite violent, riotous and exciting! The viola brings some kind of sanity towards the end like closing the final chapter but the build up of the ascending f crescendo drowns him out before finishing with a real loud brass or trumpet blast.
I was sitting in the Choir section right behind the players of the brass, timpani and winds sections and practically had a very good view of most of the strings section as well. So I could see, listen to and hear the music right in front of me. I could see their scores that one could say it was like a free sight reading lesson! A real treat and something I don’t often get that very close a view of.
Berlioz’s works sound like they have a real tour de force about them. Well, the NSOI along with Alan Buribayev and Yuri Bashmet provided a legendary note perfect performance worthy of a musical or dramatic narration.
Harold en Italie to me is a story of a traveller’s experiences and it logically moves from one "Chapter" to the next. It is not like the Symphonie fantastique, which swings to and fro and keeps one guessing.
Tchaikovsky’s "Manfred" Symphony was equally wonderful. Quite calm and mellow compared to Harold en Italie but alongside it was a lovely conclusion to a rather ‘Byronic’ evening.
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; Reviews of live performances page created in 1999; completely reorganised on 25 December 2008.
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