Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Handel's La Resurrezione (NDR Radiophilharmonie - Hannover)

Wow, it's been ages ago - I simply forgot to blog about this concert.

A good friend, and my husband's boss, is a massive fan of all that is baroque. For his birthday, he invited the two of us and a few other friends to join him in attending a concert of G.F. Händel's rarely performed oratorio "La Resurrezione" (the Resurrection).

It was performed by the NDR (Northern German Radio) Radiophilharmonie orchestra in the NDR Landesfunkhaus Niedersachsen (Lower-Saxony State Broadcasting House) as part of their baroque concert series.

I was a little skeptical since the orchestra is not a specialized baroque orchestra and I had never heard of any of the soloists (but that doesn't mean much, to be honest). The director, Michael Hofstetter, however was someone I had heard of as a specialist in baroque opera. That, and Hannover being a hot-bed of baroque music, I figured it would probably be good after all.

I was not at all disappointed with the orchestra and the conductor and his interpretation. It was a large orchestra, with many added baroque instrumentalists (who were sadly not credited anywhere, not even in the program!), including 2 theorbo players, 1 theorbo/baroque guitar, harpischord and Viola da Gamba players (whom I actually know (Irene Klein, Berlin) and spoke with in the interval). Irene Klein is an excellent Viol player and she had several obligato parts in the arias, which I very much enjoyed. The Radio Symphony orchestra played sensitively and/or dramatically as needed. The acoustics of the hall are excellent for instrumental music and it was a delight to listen to them. The Radio Choir was also excellent, but they had a thankless job. 2 pieces one each at the end of each act.

The singers on the other hand, while not bad, were nearly all of them not very good, in my humble opinion. I know, I have this problem: Being a voice teacher and attuned to hearing the slightest faults in a voice makes it nearly impossible for me to enjoy vocal concerts. It's rare for me to hear a voice I'm completely pleased with.

Unfortunately, there was only one voice I found little fault with (the Tenor, Bernhard Berchtold, who sang the part of St. John, the Apostle). The only things I didn't appreciate was his lack of dynamic variation (all on the quiet, gentle side - could be worse, right?) and his utter lack of legato singing. He was also often short on breath, probably from not singing legato. Otherwise, the quality of his voice is quite fine. A light, lyrical tenor with perfect diction - really the only singer whose words were understandable and correct. He has an advantage being a tenor though.

The next best singer, Stephanie Houtzeel, Mezzo-soprano, who sang Maria Cleophas, sang with a rich, even tone and was very musical, with lots of variation. The biggest problem with her was that she was impossible to watch. So much tension! One of the people we were with likened her physical presence to that of ??? (drat! can't remember his name right now (pop musician), it's been on the tip of my tongue for hours now...). She would stiffen her right hand and shoulder, pull her head toward her left (!) shoulder and grimace, singing basically out of one side of her mouth. That just screams that things aren't working to me. She was, however, very deft at covering it up, and she really does have a fantastic talent. Just makes me sad that there's obviously no one telling her these things, or that she hasn't noticed it herself and gotten help. We singers are just too proud sometimes. Or scared.

As for the other singers: The 2 sopranos and the bass, all have beautiful voices and loads of talent, all spoiled a bit by technical deficiencies. Kirsten Blaise, who sang the Angel, was thrillingly facile in the coloratura bits, and had a good sense of the dramatic. But otherwise, her big problem was that when she sings loudly the registration is too chest register dominant, which then drops out when she takes the weight off. The effect is that she has essentially two voices and only two basic dynamic levels with which to sing: loud and dramatic (and shrill) or quiet and breathy, which is certainly an emergency measure but she uses it for dramatic effect, so it comes across as artistry. The juxtaposition of these two modus operandi is a bit shocking to the listener's ear. Heidrun Kordes, who sang Maria Magdalena, has left little impression on me after a few week's removal, I'm afraid. I remember having some pretty distinct impressions, though. Ah yes, she had some pretty odd throat constrictions, which popped into "view" on certain vowels, most notably, (E) as in "bed" or "said". This was unfortunate because otherwise, she has quite a lovely voice. The bass/Lucifer, Josef Wagner, had just one dynamic: fortissimo, epidemic among basses as well as poor diction.

I find it shocking how rare it is to find a classical singer you can actually understand. Concern these days is often placed solely on a "beautiful" sound at the expense of nearly everything else. If singers would pay more attention to vowel quality and intensity many of the inconsistencies and "problems" would melt away and the tone become more unique and truly beautiful. But many are so busy covering up technical deficiencies they have no idea how to actually remedy them.

OK, off my soap box now. It all sounds quite dire what I've written, but I think most listeners would have been quite satisfied with the concert and the level of musicianship and the quality of what was offered. All in all it was an excellent concert, me, I would just like to hear a good singer more often than not.

The concert is being broadcast on NDR Kultur Radio (98.7 MHz) on 26 June at 8:00pm (20:00). Listen and tell me what you think!


Lizzie said...

I dislike going to vocal concerts for the same reason. It's much easier for me to attend orchestral performances or small chamber groups. Every now and then a good choir will visit and listening to them is a treat. Even still, it's hard not to have my radar up for vocal anomalies within sections.

Diane Severson said...

I agree, I'm much more likely to be forgiving (and hence enjoy) of a choral concert than soloists. Thanks for your contribution!