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An unqualified success

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
04/02/2000 -  
Richard Strauss : Suite from "Die Frau onhe Schatten"
Edvard Grieg: Lieder
Johannes Brahms: Symphony n°1, opus 68

Barbara Bonney (soprano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Maris Jansons (conductor)

I hate to say it but the problem with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra concert was ... the audience. The concert was held on the first Sunday of the French school vacations, and the hall was not as filled as one would expect from such a programme and such artists. From experience, nothing endangers more a concert as an average audience. In this case, this was visible by the fact that there was applauses after e ach movements of the Brahms, showing either a lack of know-how of good behaviour in a concert hall or more likely a sign that they were hearing this work for the first time. Musicians do not like this and this probably explain why the Brahms performance gradually went from good to routine. The introduction of the 4th movement was typical in this respect: well moulded by Jansons, who certainly has a good hear for overall sound, but small-scale and lacking any sense of drama.

As a whole, the Oslo Orchestra appeared as a coherent ensemble although the strings lacked colour and were sometimes caught short by the fairly dry acoustics of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Soloists did not seem to come through too strongly, the exception being the clarinet whose phrasing in the second movement was special. Jansons achieved a good balanced and transparent sound, although he let his timpani be too loud in the opening of the Brahms.

The first part faired better. The Strauss piece is a rarity, a suite of themes of his opera Die Frau ohne Schatten. If you like the opera, then you will enjoy this piece, which is a good mix of its best moments. I certainly deserves more hearing.

The high point of the evening though was the Grieg lieder which Barbara Bonney sang marvellously. Grieg songs are very individual. At the opposite of the Viennese charm of a Strauss, his works are more austere in their orchestration, full of melancholy, yet in the same time, with softness and lyricism. Barbara Bonney has totally made hers these works. Grieg certainly wrote these pieces with a voice like the one she possesses in mind: pure and silvery in the top, a superb control in phrasing and the right mix of interiority and sensitivity. Her artistry as a lieder singer was obvious, particularly in her ability to communicate the moods of the different songs in spite of the language barrier. An unqualified success.

Antoine Leboyer



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