GIVEN the roars that greeted the performances by tenor Ian Bostridge I'll probably be lynched after what I say about his singing of Mahler. So before we fall out, let me assert that the strongest elements in the programme included the tenor's performance of three of
These were war songs, ranging from Pearl Harbour back to the 19th century, and Bostridge's powerful evocations touched everyone, not least with the moving Dirge for Two Veterans.
The delivery of a selection from Britten's last song cycle, Who are these Children?, which marries the poetry of
Now I know Bostridge's performance of Mahler songs, including some of the folksy, earlier songs as well as the great Songs of a Wayfarer, had many listeners, to borrow their words, gushing or shattered.
I felt Bostridge was awkward, uncomfortable and grim throughout the Mahler sets. He went for the drama rather than the music. His actual sound was hard, cold and inflexible. That voice did not feel or sound at ease. One former musician, kinder than me, felt the singer was "looming towards an expressionist" interpretation. Hmm; I got nothing from it.
Quartet for the End of Time
I FELT like an idiot on Monday night, emerging from the Greyfriars Kirk Festival performance of Messiaen's epic Quartet for the End of Time.
I seemed to have been struck dumb. "Never better,"I reiterated quietly; "never better". I was clearly in shock. I was verb-less. It was contagious. I was standing next to a Radio 3 producer who was in a similar state of wonder: "Dream team," she quoted someone as having described the ensemble. "Dream team."
Out in the street, someone else managed a bit of a verb: "If ever there was a classical supergroup...."
We were not alone in our reactions. I have never seen a bigger audience in this kirk that I love; and, following a long, spellbound silence at the end, there erupted a tumultuous ovation such as I have not heard from any audience for any piece of modern music, anywhere, any time since 1990.
If there is a God in heaven, he blessed this performance of this particular piece of music. People stamped, cheered and got to their feet. I just sat, numbed and wet-cheeked from the heart-stopping and truly-transcendent effect on me that this performance had conjured and released.
Never has a state of timelessness and near-stasis been so close as in the first movement performance by violinist
THIS concert opened with the gentlemen of The Sixteen intoning in stern unison: "L'homme, l'homme, l'homme arme". It's a French renaissance ditty that was popular in its day - over 40 mass settings incorporate it - and at first glance the tune has the simple dimensions of something you could whistle, catchy and buoyant.
Here, though, its message was altogether more menacing. The text tells forebodingly of an armed stranger clad in armour who should be feared.
This little tune is the nub of this year's International Festival programme: it's the earliest manifestation of the theme of artistic responses to conflict.
The Sixteen closed with Francis Poulenc's Figure humaine: eight passionate settings of poems by
This music dates from a good three centuries after the choir's core repertoire - they are Renaissance specialists, first and foremost - and although their full ensemble sound was the beefiest I've heard from them, their delivery remained on the chaste side for such ardent, visceral music.
The rest of the programme flitted between 16th century Flanders (movements from Josquin des Prez's Missa 'L'homme arme' sexti toni), the Tudor court of
The most arresting moments of the night came in
The theme was War and Peace and Savall had gathered his troops; on stage were his two instrumental ensembles (Hesperion XXI and Le Concert des Nations), his vocal group (La Capella Reial de Catalunya) and a quartet of Turkish traditional musicians. The colour spectrum produced by the amassed gaggle of ancient instruments was spectacular.
The century in question was 1614-1714 - which (in case the historic dates were not at the tip of your memory) mark the beginning of the Thirty Years' War and the end of the Spanish Succession.
As you would expect from Savall, the programme was meticulously researched and artfully put together. Each major conflict and peace treaty was illustrated with a work from the relevant time and place. Some were more interesting than others: there are surely more exciting choices from the 1640s than
Performance quality varied, too. The voices were not generally strong enough to carry in the Usher Hall, and the modal twists of
Savall himself had arranged a plangent Catalan 'patriotic lamentation' to mark the 1714 Capitulation of