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Like father-in-law like son-in-law

01/30/2004 -  

Franz Liszt: Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre, Act One

Petra Lang (Sieglinde), Jan Kyhle (Siegmund), Alfred Reiter (Hunding)


Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No 1
Franz Liszt: Two episodes from Lenau's Faust
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre, Act Three - Scene Three

Petra Lang (Brünhilde), John Tomlinson (Wotan)

Budapest Festival Orchestra

Iván Fischer (conductor)

The Budapest Festival Orchestra now plays all the year round, but it maintains its virtuoso standards in the German-accented central European repertoire. This ingenious pair of concerts makes a surprising case for the German-ness of Liszt, who seems to be regarded these days as drawing-room version of Berlioz, a less hirsute but also less heroic quasi-Mediterranean free spirit, and for Wagner's kinship with him in the romantic tradition as well as in law. There is obvious common ground in the woodland and craggy decor of the Faust episodes and Die Walküre and in the anguished outsiders (Tasso, Faust, Siegmund), as well as in both composers' pictorial skills and cultivated extra-musical personas. The BFO played both with energetic discipline and gleaming clarity, and suggested something a more adult than this suggests.

Liszt's Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo started out as incidental music for Goethe's Torquato Tasso but ended up as a Byronic symphonic poem, as played by Fischer and the BFO a near-expressionist free-form depiction of the misery and triumph of an alienated artist. The Faust episodes are more measured than many romantic composers' Faust efforts. The famous Mephisto Waltz emerges organically from a rather painterly village party, and Faust's dispiriting vision of a saintly procession in the gloomy woods (presumably a genre equivalent of Goethe's Easter Sunday morning) was almost Rousseau-tidy. The orchestral version of Hungarian Rhapsody No 1, nominally a creative artist's informed improvisation, had more romantic danger, particularly in the arrangers' obvious but effective use of a cimbalom for the right-hand part of the piano version. Although the physical instrument played by Oszkár Okrós was elegant enough, the effect of piano-like strings struck with sticks is essentially a coarse one -- the smaller, simpler folk equivalent is called a Hackbrett, chopping board, in German. Okrós played with superb bravura, sending two sticks flying and using both his spares, and the orchestra followed suit.

Most of the congregation, however, were in the Barbican for Wagner. Rather surprisingly, they loved Fischer's gleaming interpretation, less Sturm und Drang than incipient film noir. Perhaps it was as easy to surrender in infantile bliss to these performances as to party line old-fashioned Wagner. Die Walküre act 1 was a continuous build-up of passion. Jan Kyhle as Siegmund was a pale and interesting outsider, deceptively sweet and lyrical, rather than the requisite wounded beast. (Kyhle, amazingly, does Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis as well as being a regular Siegmund.) Alfred Reiter didn't really get his teeth into (or out as) Hunding, but Petra Lang's Sieglinde made up for this by a wonderful depiction of fear and love in a vocally assured performance. Lang, like another great nominal mezzo, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, became a singer almost by accident, and like her defies category, delivering musical drama in the flesh for every different role. Her Brünhilde, in contrast, was still spunky in her despair and confusion at Wotan's rejection. It wasn't clear from this performance that she had an act 2 Brünhilde in her, but if she does, an even more apt comparison might be with Martha Moedl, a mezzo who became a dramatic soprano early on and had a long career full of incredible commitment and insight into music and drama.

John Tomlinson always sounds a bit rough when he sings Wotan's farewell, and it's normally understandable when he's sung Rheingold a couple of days before and Die Walküre act 2 an hour or so before. This time he hadn't, and it was clear that the catch in the voice was fatherly emotion, and very moving. This was the only territory in I>Die Walküre into which it wasn't possible to imagine Liszt venturing, but the journey there showed how much Wagner got from his father-in-law.

HE Elsom



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