Classical Music: 'Vanessa' goes on a diet

Vanessa

Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, W6

Rostropovich

Barbican, EC2

Julian Lloyd Webber

Wigmore Hall, W1

Whenever Classic FM produces its periodic listener survey of who's in and out of the world's- most-beautiful-music league, the top placings are much as you'd expect, with only one close-to-contemporary composer in the running: Samuel Barber, there for his Adagio for Strings. He gets a second shot (position 167 in the current chart) with Agnus Dei, but that's only because Classic FM's music staff haven't woken up to the fact that it's the same piece by another name. Apart from the Violin Concerto (crawling meekly in at 285), you'll find nothing else. And that's surprising, because Barber isn't "difficult". His work is lyrical and approachable, conservatively rooted in tonality, but also elegantly crafted, sharp and intelligent. In other words, it should appeal to audiences at every level of sophistication. And what's more, it ought to be a gift from God to concert promoters under pressure to do the decent thing by modern music. Barber is modernity without tears. He's spent a long while on the waiting list of many a British critic as the next big news about to break. The wait goes on.

Above all, we've been waiting for his operas to arrive in Britain. They're important. They're substantial. In the USA, they have been guiding beacons for a generation of composers. But apart from a wry little one-acter called A Hand of Bridge, they have suffered the fate of so much serious American music and never survived the Atlantic crossing. Antony and Cleopatra, written in 1966 for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera in New York, has only ever had a makeshift, semi-professional concert performance in this country. And , written in 1958 for the old Met, had never been done here at all until last week when the Lyric Theatre at long last gave this major piece a belated UK premiere.

It should have been a big event. But in fact it was a modest one, giving the barest sense of what the score can offer. We'd been told to expect a reduced orchestration, commissioned from composer Julian Grant to accommodate the Lyric's budget. What we actually got - with no warning and thanks to what was described to me as "a complete cock-up" over publishing rights - was a piano. So the ravishing opulence of Barber's score, which in theory comes complete with orchestra, chorus and ballet, disappeared to nothing. The result was like hearing Rosenkavalier with seven singers and two hands. Not quite the thing.

But at least it happened, with a staging that was limited but stylish. And at least the core narrative of is intimate enough to survive the sacrifice of ball scenes and the like, which serve a largely decorative function. A gothic romance with Chekhovian resonance, it involves two women - aunt and niece - festering in a northern European country house and rivals in love for the same philanderer. The aunt () gets him, but not before the niece (Erika) conceives his child. Chekhov aside, it could be Janacek, or Hitchcock. But in fact the libretto is by Barber's colleague and companion, Gian Carlo Menotti: a rare example of two composers collaborating on the same stagework, and a similarly rare example of words and music working seamlessly together to the same end. When it premiered, 40 years ago at the Met, it was a huge success. Menotti directed, Cecil Beaton designed, Mitropoulos conducted. And although Sena Jurinac withdrew from the title role at a late stage, her place was taken by Eleanor Steber, with Nicolai Gedda and Regina Resnik in support. You couldn't ask for more.

At Hammersmith - well, it just isn't like that, and it's disappointing for the mannered shrillness of Meryl Richardson who plays the lead like a psychotic pixie rather than the ageing, insecure but still alluring woman she is meant to be. But otherwise, it's not a bad cast. Louise Mott is intense as Erika and a direct, secure American tenor, Evan Bowers, makes his British debut as the philanderer. I just hope their efforts will be enough to persuade some better-organised, better-funded company to take up the piece and do it properly. It's tailor-made for Glyndebourne, Garsington, or Grange Park. Somewhere with a country house. And money for the odd violin.

Meanwhile, we're about to yield to cello fever with the opening of the new Jacqueline du Pre film, Hilary and Jackie. It may (or may not) have been a coincidence that London concerts this week were dominated by that same instrument. On Wednesday at the Barbican, Rostropovich defied his 70 years by delivering three concertos (or quasi-concertos) in succession, with very little of that artist-in-the-home-stretch compromise you expect from string players of his age. Time values can be vague; and although he never loses the thread of an argument, he does sometimes fail to pull it tight enough. But this very elasticity is attractive, and his intonation is still secure enough to encompass passages of featherweight delicacy, stripped of tone and without the insurance of vibrato. Both the Saint- Saens 1st Concerto and the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations floated with a souffle lightness. And so, in its way, did the third "concerto": a new piece, Canticle of the Sun, by the woman who on Schnittke's death became the leading Russian composer, Sofia Gubaidulina. Oddly scored for cello, voices and percussion, it portrayed the soloist's "sunny personality", according to Gubaidulina's programme note, and I can only say that her response to climate isn't mine. It struck me as all solemn spareness, building slowly out of blocks of chant, glissandi and harmonics, and a mite pretentious in the theatrical manoevres which it asked the cellist to perform. Thankfully, the inspection of the chorus he was supposed to undertake midway was quietly dropped.

The week's other cellist was Julian Lloyd Webber, whose Wigmore recital with John Lenehan included a short, rhapsodic piece called "Jackie's Song", written by JLW himself, in protest at what he believes to be the misrepresentation of Jacqueline du Pre in the forthcoming film. The song is his personal portrait of what she was like, and I can't comment on its accuracy. But the wistful charm of its appeal suggests that he considers her screen potential more Celia Johnson than Emily Lloyd. Perhaps he's right.

'': Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, W6 (0181 741 2311), to Saturday.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on