I was able to catch only half of this concert, broadcast live by BBC3, since it is the middle of the afternoon and I technically do have work to do today.
The first piece, “Polaris” was from British composer Thomas Adès. Adès is unfamiliar to me, and the following is my impression of the music – these are my notes as I was listening:
-it sounds the way cinematic depictions of rain look (the beginning bit)
-little things inside other things, all turning at their own speed
-high whistly bits with piccolos
-this is sort of absorbing
-orchestral climax interrupted by telephone call
-and back to the quiet rain pattern bits – bells. And strings. This sounds vaguely like something I have heard before, but I can’t recall what.
-strings get louder; louder bells; this is working up to something
-this is probably much more exciting in the hall than it is in my office
-big motions with pauses and spaces; and whacks of sound against background of strings
-very high pitched strings
-and that’s the end
I unplugged my office phone after this, because I wasn’t going to take any chances with the Berlioz. The BBC interviewed DiDonato about the music beforehand. (DiDonato has not-quite-a-lisp sometimes when she speaks. It’s charming.) She discussed the difference between performing opera and sharing the stage with the orchestra; the latter (e.g. as with the Berlioz songs) is more like chamber music – she is physically closer to the orchestra, just feet away from both conductor and first violin, and the experience is of being a ‘musician’ more than a ‘performer.’
Anyway. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’ete, Op. 7
I enjoyed this. I have a recording of Veronique Gens performing these songs with Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon, so I’m somewhat familiar with these, but not in every detail.
This is a live performance and not a recording, so this is going to be partly responsible for the difference, but in the first song, “Villanelle” DiDonato didn’t achieve quite the same liquid grace that Gens does, and I wanted a little more orchestral energy in the introduction.
That said, there was some wonderful singing here. In “Le spectre de la rose” I was impressed as always with that ringing space of sound she produces, and the long, fading-away phrases toward the end were beautiful.
The third, “Sur les lagunes” has this repeating run — or not quite a run, because it isn’t fast — more of a phrase involving a series of moves from a higher pitch to a much lower one that occurs I think three times (I don’t have the music in front of me right now), and this sounded both intense and controlled. And the way the last notes just float away at the end was — well, I think I need to find additional adjectives for ‘that sounded really really nice.’
It was with the fourth song, “Absence,” that DiDonato seemed to really hit her groove — the music suddenly sounded as if were written for her voice. From here on out I just sort of got lost in the sound and in her phrasing. It was smooth and elegant and utterly a pleasure to hear.
The last song, “L’ile inconnue'” was almost operatic. This is probably true of the other songs as well, but this was the point at which I noticed it: I felt as if I was listening to part of an opera. The interaction between orchestra and vocal line was really absorbing.
So, hooray DiDonato, Gilbert and the NYPhil!
And now back to work.
(One more thing. According to the BBC she’s going to give concert performances of Handel’s Ariodante with Il Complesso Barocco in Europe over the next few months. NOT FAIR. Why does so much of the fun stuff happen across the Atlantic?)