mon 24/06/2024

Hannigan, LPO, Jurowski, Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Hannigan, LPO, Jurowski, Festival Hall

Hannigan, LPO, Jurowski, Festival Hall

A splendid soprano gets lost in the desert of Lindberg’s new work, but there are compensations elsewhere

Barbara Hannigan in happier days, not singing Magnus LindbergElmer de Haas

Barbara Hannigan, we all know, is game for anything. This Canadian soprano with the pearliest tones and the dramatic instincts of a Sarah Bernhardt can find beauty and meaning in almost every contemporary composer’s barbed wire. Recently she’s been cavorting on stage as Alban Berg’s Lulu; earlier this month, for a sliver of Ligeti, she paraded herself on the Barbican platform as a gum-chewing schoolgirl in a naughty micro-skirt.

There was nothing like that at Vladimir Jurowski’s London Philharmonic concert at the Festival Hall. Her dress code was conventional: a stylish but demure white dress. Her music, alas, was far duller still, though it came from the pen of Magnus Lindberg, someone who can usually be expected to give the ears a good time. Over the decades the LPO’s new Composer in Residence has written most imaginatively for instrumentalists, but he’s previously steered clear of the solo voice. After the world premiere of his Accused: three interrogations for soprano and orchestra, one can see why. As unrewarding as a concrete wall, this 33-minute slab droned on and on, squeezing out any possible juice from the text’s torrent of words in French, German and English, carved out of documented trial interrogations from the French Revolution, East Germany in the 1970s, and the 2010 WikiLeaks case concerning Bradley Manning.

Travelling at high speed (and at insufficient volume), Hannigan’s characterisations could only be fleeting and minute

Melody, Lindberg has troublingly said, is not really for him; nor does he seek or find any musical interest in words. Pity poor Hannigan, then, forced to perform a brand of liquid Sprechstimme through reams of transcripts of often numbing banality. “How did the Meyers come to be in possession of Der Spiegel magazine?” she asked in her role as the East German Stasi interrogator. Even Schubert would have throw up his hands trying to set that. It might have helped if Lindberg had played up the drama in the libretto’s screeds of questions and answers, or at least given the questions to a male voice. As it was, travelling at high speed (and at insufficient volume), Hannigan’s characterisations could only be fleeting and minute: a bit of interrogator staccato there, a monotonous bleating there, showing a victim ground down to zero.

Neither was there room for Lindberg to display much in the way of attitude. In each interrogation, civil liberties came up against the state machine. But you barely heard Lindberg waving freedom’s flag, either in the voice's babble or in its fussy, largely opaque accompaniment, littered with nebulous woodwind arabesques, a trumpet squiggle inspired by Falla’s ballet El amor Brujo, or the briefest of sobs from a solo cello. Composer, conductor and soloist hugged themselves onstage afterwards as the applause carpet was rolled out. But I still staggered out for the interval feeling blank and scratching my head. What was this work’s point?

That question never had to be asked about Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Debussy’s suggestive jewel had only lately entered the programme, as a short replacement for his Martyre de Saint-Sébastien fragments after the Lindberg’s length became clear. But there was nothing remotely routine about this performance – the tone warm, the phrasing gorgeously supple, everything bathed in a palpably sensuous haze, spiked with the tiny tingle of crotales. This was Jurowski’s LPO at its shimmering best.

We met the orchestra’s glory again in the Act One Prelude from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, most carefully sculpted in Jurowski’s jands, curving gracefully but fatefully between love and death. If the glory faded somewhat in the concert’s last hurrah, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, it wasn’t the fault of Jurowski’s hips, wriggling in sync with the music’s curves. Me, I blame the composer himself for reaching his vaunted theosophical ecstasy through too many turns of that cheesy trumpet motif, persistent and annoying as a toothache. Bu we can’t complain about the work’s ending: a riotous blaze of sound, juicily enriched here by the Festival Hall’s organ, and the only big burst of stable harmony in the entire night.

As unrewarding as a concrete wall, this 33-minute slab droned on and on, squeezing out any possible juice from the text’s torrent of words


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a 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 gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters