Edinburgh Festival: Classical Music: Pierrot Lunaire Royal Lyceum Theatre

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Although they both centred round the figure of vocalist Maddalena Crippa, and involved exactly the same forces, the two halves of this performance given by the Teatro Stabile di Parma in the sumptuous surroundings of Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre could hardly have been in greater contrast. The first half consisted of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, while part two involved a selection of Italian canzone - popular songs of the Twenties and Thirties.

Although it is regarded as a classic, Schoenberg's score is still by no means easy listening. The complexity of the web of counterpoint and motivic linkage with which the composer attempted to impose Teutonic order on the potential chaos of "atonality" is mind-boggling if studied in isolation. Luckily, when the piece is presented theatrically the angular contours of the music fade into the background, and blend with the weird, not to say psychotic, ramblings of Pierrot himself. This production, designed by Bruno Buonincontri, was almost entirely monochrome, with the singer spotlit against a dead-black background, in which the moon was the only feature. Maddalena Crippa's performance of this complex piece, from memory, was a tour de force - her voice ranging in unearthly sprechgesang from a hollow croak to bat-like gibberings. The effect of her doll-like caperings, dead-white face, and particularly the part where she was suspended, corpse- like, from a cable, was curiously disturbing. As the piece pursued its surreal course deeper into nightmare, one began to wonder how sincere Schoenberg was being when he referred to it as "light and satirical". After the hysterical climax, "Red Mass", it was a relief to subside into the more wistful musings of the concluding "O alter Duft".

In the second half, we entered a very different world. Maddalena Crippa, in the guise of a 1930s vamp, proceeded to delight the audience with a selection of the aforesaid canzone - sentimental, humorous and satirical, largely dance-based songs, composed, apparently, by music graduates to words by journalists. (An interesting cultural initiative.) None of these songs was of outstanding quality, and would probably have sounded better in the original dance-band arrangements of their period, rather than the more chaste, classical settings provided by the Pierrot-style ensemble. Nevertheless, the heroic performance of Alessandro Nidi at the piano - undeterred by the singer draping herself across the piano and ogling him, in the person of "the violet-seller of Barcelona" - was impressive, and when the rest of the ensemble joined their tete a tete, the result was enjoyable.

Quite what Schoenberg would have made of all this, I'm not too sure. But then, after all, he did say there was "still a lot more music to be composed in C major". Perhaps this was the kind of thing he had in mind?

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