Alhough there was actually no direct connection with Wassily Kandinsky, whose exhibition is packing them in at Tate Modern, it was a pleasure to hear Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire again. Despite being analysed to death by musicologists, it's not much heard in concert these days.
Seen as well as heard: Schoenberg's 21 settings of verses by Albert Giraud, catapulting familiar commedia dell'arte characters into symbolist territory, is scored for a singer who must half-speak, half-sing her part, and it was premiered by an actress with the piece's five accompanying musicians behind a large Japanese screen.
The conductor Richard Bernas and director Mike Ashman researched the background of this 1912 premiere and came up with a staging of Ashman's own, with design by Conor Murphy and lighting by Paul Keogan (a manipulatable moon, some dark red, light blue and lime green settings and a silhouette for transitions between numbers).
Sally Burgess's Pierrot was in white-face but with an all-black Pierrot costume, and she acted, with subtlety as well as gusto, in front of a tall set of white screens (causing technical problems before the start), permitting just a glimpse of a player or two. A chair and a cane were her only props.
The effect was as Bernas had suggested: rather mysterious, even hallucinatory, if a little boxy.The crack team of Almeida players was top-notch. Burgess herself was superb, offering a good balance between song and speech, not as hysterical as some Pierrots I've witnessed. She was better with the sometimes maudlin wit of the more parodic numbers than in the most fiercely expressionist ones, where she didn't have the blood-curdling, gut-wrenching power of other interpretations I've heard.
In a curious but, as always with Bernas, apposite first half, we heard Schoenberg's Herzgewachse - a short piece for high soprano and an awkward ensemble including a harmonium - that does have a more particular Kandinsky connection, via the Blue Rider Almanac.
There was also strange melodrama and further wheezy action from that harmonium in two works by Franz Liszt. An unusual, and compelling, evening.Reuse content