The Portrait, Grand Theatre, Leeds
The Schubert Ensemble, Wigmore Hall, London

Musically, Opera North's Weinberg revival is subtle and tautly sung. Visually, though, it tries too hard

If you draw a blank at the name of Miecszylaw Weinberg, you are not alone.

Born in Poland in 1919, to a family of Jewish theatre musicians and actors, he fled the Holocaust only to fall foul of Stalin's "anti-cosmopolitan campaign". Weinberg was, in every sense, a survivor: modest and without self-pity. Never a party member, he paid his bills composing film scores, produced more than 20 symphonies, and lived to see the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sadly, he died before his most important opera, The Passenger, was premiered in Moscow in 2006. It comes to London this autumn. Meanwhile, David Pountney's Opera North production of The Portrait spearheads the British Weinberg revival, with mixed results.

Deftly, even delicately scored, often for single instruments or unaccompanied voice, Weinberg's 1980 adaptation of Gogol's short story of a high-minded artist corrupted by greed and celebrity is lent too heavy and specific a subtext by Pountney and his designer, Dan Potra. Where the composer shrugs and raises a sardonic eyebrow at human folly, lacing his score with shreds of Yiddish folk-music and glittering dances, the director thumps the table, delivering a lecture on creative compromise under Stalin and a clumsy side-swipe at two of recent history's most commercially successful artists, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.

As Weinberg's leading champion, Pountney is strangely reluctant to let the composer's work speak for itself. Musically, The Portrait is subtle to a fault, cleanly and calmly paced by conductor Rossen Gergov from the first foggy call of the horn to the hallucinatory whirl of the final scene, and tautly sung by an impressive ensemble cast. Visually, it's a hit-and-miss hotchpotch of images from the "I Don't Know Much About Art But I Know What I Like" postcard book, opening with Chagall's weightless shtetl archetypes, then moving on to a gallery of twinkly-eyed Stalins, before the apparent nadir of Hirst's diamond skull. Seduced by fame and fashion, glutted on society portraits, cracked-up, burned-out and crowned with a Warhol fright-wig, Paul Nilon's Chartkov realises too late that he has been paid for "flattery and lies".

From Holbein to Testino, flattery has been essential to portraiture. But Pountney, who dabbled in contemporary art with his Wilson Twins-inspired production of The Flying Dutchman, cannot resist exaggeration any more than he can resist taking a pop at Hirst. Stretched freakishly tall on stilts or, in the case of Katherine Broderick, compressed like a crinolined beetle on a hidden go-cart, Chartkov's wealthy subjects understandably want to avoid the truth, while his silent muse, Psyche (Hedda Oosterhoff), saunters untouchable on scarlet stilettos. Suspended on wires, Nicholas Sharratt's sinister Lamplighter shares the sweetest music with Richard Burkhard's sympathetic Nikita, who is accompanied by a bandaged flautist (Fiona Slominska) from Magritte. There's an interesting opera in here somewhere, though not a great one, and a fearless performance from Nilon. Unfortunately, the art gets in the way.

There was a far greater sense of narrative and emotional connection in The Schubert Ensemble's dynamic performance of Enescu's Piano Quartet in D minor at the Wigmore Hall. Dedicated to the memory of Fauré, Enescu's composition teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, this desolate work seems to trace the end of an affair: first cool and disinterested, then luxuriantly carnal, finally bitter and cancerous, a violent tirade of mutual recrimination. This is fantasy, of course, for if Enescu had intended his Piano Quartet to depict a break-up, he would probably have said so, and detailed with whom, where and when. As violinist Simon Blendis explained, every bow and breath is marked in the score, every fingering, every slide and sigh. Too proscriptive? Apparently not. And, oh, that chord in the second movement.

The Schubert Ensemble are blessed with the most natural, unforced, singing tone – strings and piano alike. In Dvorak's virile, big-hearted Piano Quartet in E flat, the keyboard becomes an orchestra for a triple concerto, all rolling chords and quivering trills, seldom pianistic in any conventional sense, frequently downright awkward. There's something of Rusalka in the G flat major slow movement, with its moonstruck cello melody. But the water-nymph is quickly chased away by the tumble of the Scherzo, and the forthright energy of the Finale. With his piano lid fully open, William Howard narrowly avoided overwhelming the string players. In Schubert's Notturno, the balance made more sense, as violinist Blendis and cellist Jane Salmon were held in stasis over the fluttering figurations and uneasy modulations of this enigmatic, orphaned slow movement to an unwritten Piano Trio.

'The Portrait': Theatre Royal, Newcastle (0844 811 2121), 18 Feb, then touring

Next Week:

Push-up bra at the ready, Anna Picard meets opera's latest femme fatale, Anna Nicole

Classical Choice

Harry Fehr returns to Scottish Opera to direct Handel's Orlando at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow (from Tue), while in Manchester Sir Mark Elder conducts the Hallé in a programme of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique symphony, Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and extracts from Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face, at the Bridgewater Hall (Thu).

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links