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
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
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
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone