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2007.01.29 – Recital, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona: Julius Drake


Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
29 January 2007

Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Julius Drake (piano)

Francis Poulenc:
Le travail du peintre S 161

Claude Debussy:
Beau soir
Romance: Voici que le printemps

Francis Poulenc:
Miel de Narbonne S 16/1
Attributs S 38/1 (Poèmes de Ronsard)
Montparnasse S 127
Carte postale S 58/2 (Quatre poémes de Guillaume Apollinaire)
Avant le cinéma S 58/3 (Quatre poémes de Guillaume Apollinaire)
1904 S 58/4 (Quatre poémes de Guillaume Apollinaire)

Maurice Ravel:
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée

Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov:
Plenivshis’ rozoy, solovey /Rose und Nachtigall /Eastern Song: Enslaved by the rose and the nightingale Op. 2 No. 2

Sergei Rachmaninov:
Khristos voskres / Christus ist auferstanden /Christ is risen Op. 26 No. 6
Ona, kak polden’, khorosha / So schön wie der Mittag / She is as Lovely as the Noon Op. 14 No. 9
Rechnaja lileja / Flußlilie / The Waterlily Op. 8 No. 1 (Six songs)
Son / Traum A Dream Op. 38 No. 5 (Six songs)

Johannes Brahms:
Auf dem Kirchhofe op. 105/4
Der Nachtwandler op. 86/3
Es schauen die Blumen op. 96/3
Ständchen op. 106/1 «Der Mond steht über dem Berge»

Richard Strauss:
Ständchen op. 17/2
All’ mein Gedanken op. 21/1
Das Rosenband op. 36/1
Hochzeitlich Lied op. 37/6
Cäcilie op. 27/2

Eastern Song: Enslaved by the rose and the nightingale, Op. 2 No. 2

What the critics say

Jorge Binaghi  Mundoclasico.com

Translated by Ursula Turecek

I’m afraid that I’m going to be politically incorrect and express an opinion that is contrary to this publication’s last editorial note. Not only does it seem to me that Thielemann has a right to be annoyed at the coughs but also that any artist has, be he inexperienced, mediocre or famous. That this recital was not spoiled is due to the artists’ cool blood and to their decision to make music despite of everything, and impressively so. Personally I am grateful to them but I would have found it justified if they had said “That’s enough” in the middle of the first part. Occasionally somebody will have to do it even if the “democrats” accept it with the cry “divo”.

At the theatres the audience is asked to switch off their mobile phones out of respect for each other and for the artists (the order might be reversed). Unfailingly something rings. This time it wailed two times in the middle of the mini-Strauss-cycle that ended the concert’s first part, but the person concerned did not take it as meant for her nor did she hurry much. Before that and afterwards the hall seemed to be visited by the descendants of “Mimi” and “Violetta” together. Anyway, you can cough but you can also make an effort to put your hand, or a handkerchief, in front of your mouth, instead of expectorating sonorously and then proceeding to the interminable searching, trapping and opening of some toffee… always coughing or sneezing.

The strange thing is that if a top note comes these same persons appear more attentive, and let us not say that they are more attentive during familiar passages. It’s true, this was not that sort of programme (that is to say that it did have top notes but, apart from maybe one, no notes that assure the glory of the singer at the expense of singing everything else somehow or other without interpretation, or contrarily exaggerating to the extreme in order to raise the temperature).

And do not tell me that with this attitude a new audience, or a chance to avoid a “museum piece”, is lost”. To begin with, those who seemed to listen, be interested and who protested with enough vehemence against what was happening were also members of the audience, in general from the higher seats. And I do not know if they were all or some of them young but I do know that they were quite a bit younger than those I had around me, who did not even remember that they had seen the singer in Hamlet, from which arose a DVD, nor did they seem to realise his importance or that of the programme (it certainly was not about a tenor or a soprano, nor one of those entertainment programmes with an aria, a popular song or two, some sophisticated order). No, this programme was serious, which I suppose could be the motive for a reproach of “elitism”… And who says that a lied programme is to “have a good time”?

As for the famous argument of the “museum piece”, I do not know what is to be held against it (except for the fact maybe that to see the Mona Lisa you have to overcome hordes with their cameras pulled out who do not look at the painting but “shoot” it). I imagine that it does not come to anybody’s mind that you can look at Michelangelo or Picasso only “live” or in some re-interpretation by someone who can paint or draw. We either see them in a museum and try to acquaint ourselves with their meaning (for this you need a minimum of peace and time, and I do not claim that there are not also people who are informed: you know that to “enjoy” does not mean you do not have to take any trouble), or we pass them.

To listen to Poulenc and even to Brahms with the facility that the subtitles allow for now (albeit many do not make an effort… neither did they do when the text was printed in the programme) you have to have the desire, a genuine interest in the music and the help of the interpreters…

What can we do? Except for some fringe attempts (including one in which Simon Keenlyside took part and did brilliantly with a danced Winterreise), recital singing cannot be “modernized” or made “contemporary”. While during the same time the Verdi of Don Carlos was made real in a way that you read about here, this programme demonstrated – in spite of the greater part of the audience – that without any reality show, great music has a life of its own and comes to terms with everything… if you listen to it, this is clear.

The attitude of this exceptional artist and his worthy accompanist alone was appealing. They had performed this programme before in Vienna, London and Madrid to let it rest after this recital.

It was an occasion to see Keenlyside in formal clothing as the tradition demands (it is not bad to dress in a different way every now and then; it also helps to change attitude), and above all to be happy or tremble – and make us happy or tremble if we paid attention – with Russian or French songs or the German lied. And additionally, what a language lesson he gave us! Of extremely clear articulation and most powerful meaning and “possession”: one phrase was enough for him to leave Brahms’s incommensurable world – six songs that reached from the cemetery to the serenade, passing the typical character of the “wanderer” so dear to the German tradition – and repair to Rimsky’s Russian with its nightingales and roses.

But even larger was the jump from this world to Rachmaninov’s terrible Christo (of an almost wild power which would have been justification enough for the whole concert) and afterwards his descent to the nostalgia and melancholy of beauties, flowers and dreams. The first part ended with Strauss, and notwithstanding that his Ständchen was exemplary (we do not often hear Strauss sung by a less grave, male voice, and how impressive it is) and that in the middle came the abhorrent ringing of a mobile phone, he succeeded in eliciting an enormous applause with – naturally – Cäcilie (this one certainly is relatively familiar and possesses some high notes that are not truly effective but that may be considered as such by some). Under these circumstances the second part was really difficult. The chamber music or lyrical music of Debussy and Poulenc is not able to delight a large audience. Keenlyside did not allow any repose. He began laying a high stake with the rarely heard cycle Travail du peintre with wonderful texts by Eluard that in their brevity depict the different painters (a gallery of the great ones from the first decades of the last century): here there was more than a statement of text and vocal colour. Certainly there were almost no high notes, but he had a phrasing and an expression that I can only explain by saying that it seemed as if using these texts and this music the English baritone had given us an art history-lesson: If he does not know the works of Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Gris, Klee, Miró and Villon, he is a perfect fraud because with his voice he made you “see” the type of the respective paintings (is this a museum piece).

After three songs by Debussy (Beau soir, Voici que le printemps and Verlaine’s wonderful Mandoline) of which we can only repeat what the texts say: “chanson touchante” and “donneur de serenades”, came another group of Poulenc (with texts by Apollinaire) that ended with the marvellous Avant le cinéma. After this, I suppose now satisfied having set such a difficult high standard, he finished with Ravel’s Three songs of Don Quijote: It goes without saying that the final “chanson à boire” always elicits applause, but the first two are not inferior in colours and nuances.

Throughout the complete recital Drake proved an excellent team mate, understanding the singer very well.

It borders on incredible that in the context I have presented, Keenlyside had the generosity to offer four encores. But he did not lose ground in this moment either and if anybody had expected an aria or something „light“ he received the greatest of presents in a song recital comme il faut: Schubert. After another “wanderer” and Schubert’s also typical and memorable “stars” we qualified for a great version of Rastlose Liebe and, oh, one of those Italian ariettes where Keenlyside revealed not only his mastery of fiato [breath] and legato, of jumping from top to bottom, but also why he is a great Mozartian. The grace, the malice, the fervour of L’incanto degli occhi – and thus he covered the demand for Italian, maybe an outstanding subject for some – will rest in the memory of those, many of whom rested until the end and burst into a more than justified cheering and roaring. How would it have been with a devoted, attentive, educated audience entering at least partially into what it had before its eyes and ears… I am very much afraid that next time we’ll have to travel to other latitudes to hear a recital by these two artists.

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