Saturday, 11 April 2015

So, the Devil really does have the best tunes (Berlin Philharmonic, Faust)

Simon Rattle cond. Berliner Philharmoniker, Hector Berlioz, Le Damnation de Faust 

Unless you live under a stone, you will likely have an opinion on the most likely contender to replace Rattle as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, probably the best orchestra in the world; the LSO can’t, if truth be told, but Rattle is moving to London to take charge. And the rumours are that amidst savage cuts to the arts, George Osborne has promised him a new concert hall to lure him. This might be more motivated by Parisian efforts, but I doubt anything as imaginative as building outside central London will be contemplated. If these rumours be true, then there is a certain irony, is there not, to the selection of Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust for the Baden-Baden festival. The production was then taken to the Philharmonie in Berlin and therefore  the digital concert hall. I did briefly consider spending all my money to get a last-minute ticket and plane fares to go to Berlin. By the way, Joyce DiDonato was in Europe doing lots of things, including this. Regrettably, common sense prevailed, but logging in to hear it online seemed a tolerable surrogate. 

Faust (Charles Castronovo) was slick, menacing. He commanded the hall and your attention effortlessly. Perfect. Brander (Florian Boesch) added some humour as he appeared with beer glass in hand, drank from it, and proceeded to conduct, alongside Rattle, his own fugue. Even the most professional musicians couldn’t help but smile at this. And he followed the ‘Choeur de Buveurs’, which must be as fine a song as the Brindisi. 

The duet between Marguerite (DiDonato) and Faust was tender, sensual and J-D established Marguerite so quickly, that when it came to the Romance in her chamber, fifteenth scene, it almost became bel canto; DiDonato made this glow. 

The Rundfunkchor Berlin was sensational. The Villagers at daybreak in the second scene, seemed like a sun rising; at the party, real revellers might well have appeared, albeit in rather good voice. 

Urgency at the end of scene XVII; the flight of hoses and the peasant chorus kneeling by a wayside cross. These are wonderful moments, as the orchestra picks up the musical pace, the texture thickens, and the tempo quickens. Literally a danse macabre, in function rather than form, we arrive in hell for Mephistopheles triumphant. And the chorus is at its finest. The devil, it turns out, has the best tunes. Or at least choral sections. Then to earth, and heaven. The Rundfunkchor were up to the task here. 

At the end, Rattle had a look on his face which said he had more than an inkling as to just how fine this had been. The applause went on for soem time - a standing ovation is somethign I recall seeing on these webcasts from Berlin. There might not be a curtain, but even as the hall was half empty, a handful carried on clapping until DiDonato et al came back.

With three harps, a large chorus and almost all the instruments, this is almost Wagner-sized music. And here it is done justice.  It is scarcely possible to imagine music more heavenly than this, or a score done better service.  The drama may have limitations –this is why it is probably best in the concert hall than the opera house. So much of it is pure symphony, and on the stage, we hear the music so much better. Faust regretted;  Rattle might; if the LSO make music like this, nobody here will.  I regret not buying the ticket now.

This will available in the archive soon- and worth the admission.

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle
Charles Castronovo, Tenor (Faust)
Joyce DiDonato Mezzo-Soprano (Marguerite)
Ludovic Tézier Bass (Méphistophélès)
Florian Boesch Bass (Brander)
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Simon Halsey, Chorus Master

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