Barbara Hannigan in the RBA

OK so who noticed that Barbara contains RBA twice?  A perfect fit one might say and so it proved.  In a short late afternoon concert Ms. Hannigan, joined by the TSO Chamber Soloists (Jonathan Crow, Peter Seminovs, Teng Li and Joseph Johnson) and Liz Upchurch, showed her chops as one of the day’s best interpreters of modern vocal music.   First up was the String Quartet No.2 by Schoenberg.  This is a most unusual quartet in that the players are joined by a soprano soloist for the third and fourth movements.  It’s also unusual in that, although it predates Schoenberg’s full blown serialism, the first three movements are tonal (just) but the last is a full on experiment in atonality.  None of this makes it easy to play or sing!

2015-02-24-COC-Rapture-004It’s also intensely emotionally wrought music.  The words for the last two movements; Litanei and Entrückung, are drawn from Stefan George’s Der Siebente Ring and are religious texts of a rather ecstatic and tortured nature.  It was fascinating to watch Ms. Hannigan sitting like a coiled spring waiting for her turn as the instrumentaliusts navigated the complexities of Schoenberg’s extended tonality.  And when she did come in it was a remarkable physical and emotional intensity.  It would, I suspect, be easy, and perhaps forgivable, to treat this music as a technical exercise but that’s the opposite of what we head.  Ms. Hannigan sang with brilliant musicianship but also with a depth of emotion that surprised me.  Compelling stuff indeed.

The dessert course was Chausson’s Chanson Perpétuelle; a piece in a more impressionist and clearly tonal vein.  It’s also a text about romantic love in a sort of French pre-Raphaelite vein (if indeed there were French Pre-Raphaelites; it’s by Charles Cros from his Le coffret de santal).  Not perhaps what one expects to hear from Barbara Hannigan but very well and idiomatically done.

So none of the overt dramatics of her recent Ligeti performance with Simon Rattle that seems to have gone viral on YouTube but a deeply musical and satisfying way to spend the back end of a winter afternoon.

Photo: Chris Hutcheson


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