MUSIC / Sick notes: Nick Kimberley on a week of vocal complaints, plus Gorecki's daughter in concert

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Caveat cantor: all manner of wintry indispositions have recently disrupted London music-making. Last Saturday, the Royal Festival Hall seemed a plainer place in the absence of the promised confrontation between Ute Lemper, John Eliot Gardiner and Kurt Weill. An unusual number of empty seats suggested that many Lemper fans were unwilling to make do with Barbara Bonney as a late substitute in Mahler's Fourth Symphony.

Since becoming principal conductor of Hamburg's NDR Symphony Orchestra in 1991, Gardiner has stretched the already large boundaries of his repertoire. He had to reach Mahler eventually, and here showed that his strengths in Mozart and Monteverdi - a care for texture, firm but not exaggerated rhythms - are quite handy in Mahler too. In particular, the potentially meandering third movement here progressed gorgeously but inexorably.

In Mahler's Fourth, the soloist has to sit for 40-odd minutes looking detached, before delivering her all in the finale's pious ecstasy. Bonney has the delicacy and clarity required, yet the sheer loveliness left me longing for something more characterful. Lemper and Weill, perhaps.

Three days earlier, Jard van Ness's Wigmore Hall cancellation offered the chance to hear Jochen Kowalski in Bach's Ich habe genug with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Dressed up in tails and striped waistcoat, Kowalski sounded tense, strait-jacketed perhaps by Bach's morbid adorations. The voice is more vibrant than any counter-tenor's, yet, reaching for a lower register, it all but disappeared. Still, the top rang out thrillingly, and every facial twitch spoke of the singer's agonised pleasure in his astonishing vocal gift.

The French mezzo Magali Damonte was a last-minute deputy for Denyce Graves at the first night of the Royal Opera House's Carmen revival. Reluctant to look away from the conductor, Jeffrey Tate, she made Carmen tentative, and the voice is rather small. Yet she shaped her music skilfully, and showed signs of a real ability to move and act. Above all, she sang real French, clearly distinguishing between 'la mort' and 'l'amour'. At Covent Garden, that is luxury indeed.

Other concerts escaped cancellations. At the Barbican, Mark Elder took the CBSO through a fierce account of Sibelius' First Symphony. It left him drained but triumphant, seeming to claim it as all his own work. Elder loves the theatrical touch. Ann Murray was the soloist in Berlioz's La Mort de Cleopatre. No less forceful a dramatist, she tapped her chest proudly as she sang 'J'ai profanee.' And did she wipe away a tear at the prospect of 'l'eternelle nuit'? At the edge but defiant, Murray's Cleopatra was almost eager to take the asp in hand.

For the first half of Anna Gorecka's Wigmore Hall debut on Tuesday night, her piano's volume knob seemed to have two settings: loud and very loud. Her forthright playing blurred the dancing rhythms of Schumann's Papillons but there was an energetic virtuosity. Less agitated after the interval, she gave a mysterious and thrilling account of her father Henryk Gorecki's Four Preludes. Occasional lapses in subtlety did not obscure a muscular intelligence, most evident in Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. She deserved a larger audience.

Comments