Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Infernal Dance by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen

Bluebeard Castle/Le Château de Barbe-Bleue (in concert), Théâtre des Champs Elysées, November 15 2011

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Carole Bouquet, Michelle DeYoung, John Tomlinson

Conductor ..... Esa-Pekka Salonen

Judith ..... Michelle DeYoung
Kékszakállú ..... John Tomlinson

Prologue ..... Carole Bouquet

And here was my absolutely favorite English orchestra coming to Paris, with a special program,  and there was no way for me to miss this concert. There is always something special about them, something that makes their concerts stand out: be it a peculiar interpretation of a given score,  something passionate in execution, or Salonen bringing up his passion for modern and contemporary music -- the result is invariably great.
The Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen are touring across Europe, celebrating Bartók and his music, presenting the cycle called Infernal Dance, revolving around music by Béla Bartók. Here is your example of why they are special. The meaningfully composed and structured program that digs deep into the opus of this phenomenal composer. Do check their web-site (Bartók section, in particular)

Back to their Paris concert. It actually started with Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, that I realized to have never listened to before. I may have caught a few excerpts here and there but this was my first listening to this piece. It always makes you feel good to discover something new, trying to get into the depth of this intricate music, and feeling richer for that experience...  Plus I was in the mood for Bartók! Man was an absolute genius and when you're in the right mood, try and listen to Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta with Pierre Boulez conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker in 2007

Second part was Bluebeard's Castle, the phenomenal opera by Bartok (one of my absolute favorites), with Esa-Pekka in his best form and the orchestra responding wonderfully. The whole thing was unfortunately spoiled by the organizers' idea to bring Carole Bouquet --a gorgeous French actress-- to pronounce two sentences of Prologue, while showing off her wonderful dress, which would be fine everywhere except at the Bartók concert. It killed the mood so brilliantly defined by the first part of the evening.

After that appeared barefooted Michelle DeYoung, who apparently replaced the initially programmed (and often barefooted too) Measha Bruggergossman. She sang her part fantastically. Michelle has a big voice and is able to bend it any way she wants, which is of fundamental importance for this role -- Judith had countless faces, and the mood swings are so frequent that there is no time for loosing it up and refocusing later. It takes a big voice to cope with huge harmonic waves of Bartók's music and Michelle's perfectly suited for the part. Her truly excellent performance was loudly cheered by the very enthusiastic Parisian crowd.

I like John Tomlinson and was very glad to hear him in this part. It's maybe not the best role for him at this time of his career as it is too tough to sustain in expressiveness and intensity. He did his best in spite of the fatigue that settled in in the last 10 minutes. His experience showed and all the moods, expectations, disappointment, gentlemanly behavior, and despair... were magnificently shaped by his voice.

The harmonic explosion when the 5th door is opened is one of my favorite musical moments in general and here it was coming up gloriously --the effect was probably exacerbated by the size of this auditorium-- with Michelle surfing on that sound by her opulent voice. Fantastic evening at TCE! The Philharmonia and Salonen will be back there soon, for some more Bartók. Check out here!

Here is a little film with Salonen discussing the music by Bartok, including the Bluebeard.

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