Philharmonia Orchestra/ Mackerras, Royal Festival Hall, London
Friday 11 December 2009
Bleeding chunks or prime cuts? Either way, there’s something deeply dissatisfying, even pointless, about an evening of Wagner highlights.
Not even Sir Charles Mackerras could make musical sense of scenes and interludes designed to move forward and ultimately resolve a larger – much larger – narrative. Wagner was the supreme dramatist with a sense of proportion and development second to none – so it was interesting but no surprise that moments so overwhelming in the context of his operas proved merely exciting in this “greatest hits” context. No reflection on the burnished Philharmonia Orchestra’s playing or the big hearted opulence of the star soprano, Christine Brewer – it’s just that great moments need to be earned.
The exception, of course, was the Prelude and Venusberg Music of Tannhauser where the stately chorale-like procession of pilgrims is so provocatively juxtaposed with the sensual delights of Venus. And lest it be suggested that at 84-years of age Mackerras no longer has the wherewithal to whip up a mean orgy I am here to tell you that it was instructional to see the great man rise from his sitting position and unleash a trumpet-topped whirlwind of sexual naughtiness with tambourines and castanets adding so quirkily to the headiness of it all.
But no sooner had the Three Graces arrived and the Hymn to Venus shimmered to extinction when the mysteries of the “Tristan chord” had deposited in another country, another uncharted world altogether. I can no longer buy the concert format of the “Prelude and Liebestod”, the beginning and end of Tristan und Isolde. The absence of an emotional journey renders this sublime music merely cosmetic: you surrender to it without really knowing why. And beautiful though Christine Brewer’s singing of the Liebestod was, she and us need to have arrived at that state of heightened awareness from somewhere.
Actually it was interesting to watch Brewer sit out the concert evocation of daybreak from Gotterdammerung. In the opera she and Siegfried would be greeting the new day with ecstatic exchanges and you could almost see her mouthing the words, eager to be a part of the gathering excitement. Mackerras and the orchestra certainly hit all the nodal points – like Siegfried’s athletic Rhine Journey and the convulsive Funeral March - of this “selection” from the opera. But it felt like a stitch-up in more ways than one – and come Brunnhilde’s defiant Immolation, Brewer’s rolling womanly tones – so telling in the quiet middle section – were ultimately swallowed by the wall of brass that was once Valhalla.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 3 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 4 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Is Poppy Pym the new Harry Potter? Children's bookseller wins Independent's new author search
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms