Hannigan, LSO, Rattle, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews
Hannigan, LSO, Rattle, Barbican Hall
Hannigan, LSO, Rattle, Barbican Hall
Heroines and hysterics with Stravinsky, Ligeti, Berg and Webern
For his second programme this week with the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle conducted variations on a programme he’s been doing for years. So what’s the theme? Invention and hysteria, you might say. Berg’s Marie in Wozzeck and Stravinsky’s virgin in The Rite of Spring both meet gory if wordless ends. Ligeti’s Chief of Police in Le grand macabre reverses roles and deals death to anyone in her path. Or at least threatens it. So much for hysteria. Invention? In 1909 Webern ripped up the textbook of orchestral colour and wrote his own with the Orchestral Pieces Op.6, just as Stravinsky would do the same for rhythm in his third ballet two years later.
Rattle has repeatedly gone on record to disparage the Barbican’s acoustics, and his Sunday concert of Schumann’s Paradise and the Peri felt at points restrained and yet constrained, as though a much bigger sound was struggling to get out. The numbed processional at the heart of Webern’s Op.6 suffered from the same problem (as it had done when he and the Vienna Philharmonic came on tour in June 2012). The dynamic extremes that are his stock in trade don’t expand easily in the Barbican’s compact box of air, yet can be lost across the spaces of the Festival Hall. What price his much-vaunted return to London? A new concert hall?
All the same, Rattle really makes the LSO (and his audience) listen. In Op.6 he sought to highlight every rustle, moonlit scene and sudden horror which take on a more explicit narrative in the Fragments from Wozzeck. The LSO strings brought an appalling pathos to the opening bars of the Berg which had been missing from Webern. The buttons of the Drum-Major’s uniform gleamed in the opening movement’s march as Barbara Hannigan’s Marie cooed and panted ecstatically over her new lover. Unlike most sopranos in the role, Hannigan was no displaced Brünnhilde, more like Fiordiligi on Benefits Street. She made an awful confessional of her scene with the family Bible, always sinuously lyrical in tone and the more pathetic for it, never quite overwhelmed by the orchestral weight that threatened to shake the Barbican’s walls in the devastating interlude before the opera’s final scene, where she has the expressive means to switch from mother to plausible orphan.
Such demonstrative physical and musical flexibility, as well as the interval for a saucy costume change, have allowed her to bring down the house many times in Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, and she has developed a slick act with Rattle. She now appeared not as leather-clad dominatrix but naughty schoolgirl still tossing off Ligeti’s coloratura pyrotechnics while barking and hissing her arbitrary instructions: beyond parody, which may be my problem with both Elgar Howarth’s arrangement and a performance that has lost touch with the political and cultural disenchantment which drove Ligeti to write the opera, notwithstanding Rattle’s theatrical cry of anguish at "Prime Minister Farage"(Rattle reacting pictured above). The laughter can be so loud that it drowns the anger.
Finally came the Rite, as the grand, inevitable climax to all that had preceded it. Over the decades Rattle has made the "Spring Rounds" of Part One slower and more threatening than ever – you could almost tug the beards on the old men as they circled the Chosen One. Even so, this was the LSO, not the BPO: inimitably so, at the climax of the "Games of the Rival Tribes", all acoustic caution thrown to the wind. Conductors seem at their finest when guiding and not bridling the force of an orchestra.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?