Swiss Dutchman and Four-Handed Piano

As the year pootles to a close, need a quick catch-up on a couple of events of a couple of weeks ago, and they are two concerts in which I have to declare an interest, knowing people performing in both.

On 15 December, Opernhaus Zürich brought their Fliegende Holländer over, with everything bar the sets, and launched it headlong onto the flat oceans of the Royal Festival Hall. As with much Wagner in concert, it still transcended the rather brightly-lit auditorium and the dry acoustic, and from our seats in the side stalls (sort of ‘slips’ seats along the edge) they managed to get across a good measure of the thrill and drama of the score. It even managed to survive the South Bank management’s insertion of an interval after Act 1, picking up even more intensity in the second half. The Royal Festival Hall need to be singled out for mention, for managing the concert abominably, with the audience hustled into the auditorium with ever more urgent announcements only to find that the orchestra weren’t anywhere near ready to appear. Others were haranguing the ushers over the programmes running out and elsewhere toilets were closed (which can mean a long dash to different floors and different sides of the auditorium). If anyone had travelled from overseas to see the Zurich company, this wouldn’t have been a favourable impression of London concert-going.

Bryn Terfel’s Dutchman has been seen before in these parts and he despatched it with supreme confidence, bringing fabulous shading to the character: there certainly seemed to be deep undercurrents to this seafarer. His voice was in fine form, from mezza voce to full-on ‘railing against the cosmos’. As his saviour, Anja Kampe’s Senta has also graced the London stage and, if anything, has acquired a more thrilling vocal abandon, even if occasionally the tone loses some of its voluptuousness. Kampe is equally adept at bringing introspection to the character, even in such unprepossessing surroundings as these, and her singing rose to both fierce crescendos and moments of sustained beauty.

Matti Salminen, who surely has a timeshare stake in the word ‘veteran’ along with Sir John Tomlinson, was dependable and engaging as Daland, slightly more thoughtful than most interpretations of the character (despite Wagner providing little opportunity to be so when he is marrying off his daughter to a man he met that morning). Her previous boyfriend, Erik, was played by Martin Homrich: a late stand-in for Marco Jentzsch, he looked and sounded more like Mime than Senta’s beau. The Steersman was a beautifully sweet-voiced Fabio Trümpy, with Liliana Nikiteanu a rather glamorous Mary.

Alain Altinoglu led a reading that grew in depth as the night went on, with the storm definitely building as Act 3 went on. He was alert to the singers, and co-ordinated well the dynamics of the competing choruses in the party scene, even if it didn’t quite register with ideally counterpointed clarity from where we were sitting. General impression of both orchestra and chorus was excellent, with the latter singing with notable precision and thrust (and in case you were wondering, the connection is that one of their number is my partner’s cousin…)

Then, on the 18th, off to the small but very impressive venue, The Forge, in Camden to hear piano duo Piano4Hands in their ‘tenth birthday’ concert. The duo are Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa and, having been initially unsure I could make it (that busy Christmas week and all that), I was very glad I did. I’ve known Waka for a while, but not before been to a concert by the duo, or indeed any piano duo. I was immediately struck by the variety of tone, as well as weight, that becomes possible with four hands on the keyboard, as well as the communication between the pair of them. The programme showcased some of the works that have been part of their ten years of playing together, and some newer ones. I hardly ever listen to recorded Schubert, and once again, encountering his music in concert, I was completely spellbound. The Rondo had some of those meltingly beautiful chord combinations that Schubert seemed to excel at. The previously unknown (to me) Rosamunde Overture had a fantastic combination of the spirited roulades of Rossini with the harmonics of Weber. I found the Debussy and Ravel to be more technically impressive than moving, but enjoyed the playfulness of the Bizet. It was a fantastic concert, so much so that I snapped up a Schubert CD on the way out!

The full programme: Schubert, Rondo in A major, D981; Dvořák, Three Legends Op59; Schubert (arr. Schoenberg), From Rosamunde – Entr’acte No 3 & Overture; Debussy, Petite Suite; Bizet Jeux d’Enfants Op22; Ravel, La Valse.

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