Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tout en douceur

Susan Graham, Orchestre de Paris & Bertrand de Billy, Salle Pleyel, September 23  2010

Susan Graham after Poème de l'amour et de la mer

September 23 was one of those days when many different concerts/operas are happening simultaneously in Paris and you wish you were a Schrödinger's cat and be on at least two sites at the same time. Look here: (1) Handel's Messiah at Cité de la Musique (with Rosemary Joshua among the soloists); (2) Daniele Gatti conducted his Orchestre National de France and Matthias Goerne at Théâtre du Chatelet -- evening with Mahler's 5th and Kidertotenlieder; (3) Yannick Nézet-Séguin came with his Rotterdam Philharmonics to Théâtre des Champs Elysées with a program: Beethoven's 7 and Bruckner. Add to that both opera houses presented an opera each: (4) Eugene Onegin at Opéra Bastille, and (5) L'Italiana in Algeri at Opéra Garnier.
I chose to go to (6) Pleyel, where Orchestre de Paris was proposing an interesting program:

Webern - Im Sommerwind
Ernest Chausson - Poème de l'amour et de la mer

Henri Dutilleux - Mystère de l'instant
Robert Schumann - Symphony #4

So, it opened with Webern's Im Sommerwind*, which is maybe not one of his most known pieces, but was a definitely good way to smoothly dive in Poème de l'amour et de la mer by Ernest Chausson** who at the time when he composed this music was very clearly under wagnerian infuence, but managed to compose a delicate score for mezzo-soprano voice who surf through the large orchestral waves. Bertrand de Billy did a very good job with Orchestre de Paris. They never covered Susan Graham, [who I was happy to see back in Paris after a little less than 2 years ago when she sang Charlotte in Rose's production of Werther at Bastille, together with Rolando Villazon]. Susan is evidently in very good form vocally and her excellent French made the poem work with the crowd. Brava!

Third part was a discovery for me: "Mystère de l'instant" by Henri Dutilleux, a piece created in 1989. It's always fun to listen to contemporary music in live performance by a large orchestra, and particularly at Pleyel. Let me be clear: it's not a kind of music you'd add to the playlist on your iPod, but in live performances, when played properly, a magic happens - if you like complex sounds.
I read in the notice that Dutilleux made reference to Bartók in this work, and this is indeed what you can hear weaving through the whole "Symphony" (or whatever you call this 15min long work!)

And the final piece was Schumman's Symphony #4, which is where they lost me... I realize I am simply incapable to fully appreciate Schumann's orchestral music. I like his Lieder, a few pieces for piano, but his orchestral music regularly sounds 'redundant' to me. I tried many times to get into it but apart from a couple of interesting moments, I always struggle against boredom. You can't like them all!

So, it was a good musical evening: a pleasure to listen to Susan Graham, and to see Bertrand de Billy who conducted this orchestra for the first time and who we see very seldom performing in his native city.

OK, I went to listen to this concert because of Susan Graham and because of the Webern's idyll. Apart from his Lieder, Schumann's music remains beyond my grasp. I tried many times to listen to his Symphonies but I always ended up feeling frustrated for not feeling anything but boredom. That music is auto-sufficient and vane to me. Since many like it I figure it's me who don't get it. Tough luck, but since life is short...


* If you have some time and patience please listen to Berliner Philharmoniker performing Im Sommerwind under Pierre Boulez [here and here].

**You can find both poèmes by Maurice Bouchor (both in French and English) that Chausson transformed into songs, here and here.

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