"A free concert?!" I said to my esteemed work colleague, "Why, of course I'll go." So, on Saturday 20th Feb, I trotted off to the Wigmore Hall to hear an ensemble I hadn't heard before: The Nash Ensemble. I am very glad I did.
The evening centred around four French composers, three of whom - Fauré, Ravel and Debussy - I knew of, while the fourth, Duruflé, I had not encountered, and it was this gentleman's music with which I was most taken. The piece performed was the Prélude, Récitatif et Variations, for flute, viola and piano (Op. 3, 1928).
Duruflé published 14 compositional works, the only chamber piece being the Prélude, Récitatif et Variations. With the direction "Lent et triste," the piece starts with the piano, followed by the viola with a hauntingly sad melody which stunned me with its expressive, mournful quality. The interplay between the piano (Ian Brown), viola (Lawrence Power) and flute (Philippa Davies) was excellently realised.
There followed three pieces for cello and piano by Fauré, and one by Ravel: Élégie, Op. 24 (1880); Romance, Op. 69 (c. 1870/1894); Papillon, Op. 77 (?1884); and Pièce en forme de habanera (1907). Finally, we were presented with Debussy's Sonata for violin and piano (1917).
Both Marianne Thorsen (violin) and Paul Watkins (cello) played with immense skill and great intuition, yet the pieces chosen lacked for me the depth which the first piece (Duruflé) had in abundance.
For me, the Viola stole the limelight that night.
Today, I went to see Lucia di Lammermoor at the ENO. I didn't really know what to expect, as I have not heard the opera in full before, but I was, of course, looking forward to the coloratura tour de force that is the Mad Scene: Il dolce suono...
But the opera was much more than that. What I saw was the story of wild, destructive emotions, mistrust, selfishness and jealousy which, in the end, brought about the destruction of lives and the loss of sanity of the characters Lucia and Edgardo. The remaining characters did not fair much better either.
While some of Donizetti's music can be alarmingly boyant given the force and darkness of the emotions expressed in the text, he manages to provide enough fire and rage in the orchestration at the key moments to make the opera compelling.
Having the Mad Scene in context allows one to understand and relate to the fragments of music from earlier scenes woven together in it. In the recollection of the various events of her past, Lucia moves further away from reality and deeper into the illusiory world that is consuming her. Also, the opera fits together very well, making it easy to relate to the characters.
Anna Christy's first Act Lucia was good, but not spectacular. Her final Act was magnificent: compelling, distressing, fragile, yet strangely free. The coloratura effortless, the final high E flat stable, though not very long, yet what made her performance even more commanding was her acting, both vocally and physically. The young girl, betrayed, unloved, desparing, and yet a murderess, falling into madness, was exactly what Christy gave us.
Barry Banks' Edgardo was magnificient throughout. Vocally top-notch, his acting on form, his own descent into madness, via hatred, vengeance and betrayal, to suicide when he learns of Lucia's death, was as powerful as Christy's. What is interesting is the differing portrayals of madness, and the paths to it, for Lucia and Edgardo.
Brian Mulligan's Enrico (Lucia's brother), Clive Bayley's Raimondo (the Protestant priest), and Sarah Pring's Alisa (Lucia's maid) were all excellent, as was Dwayne Jones' Arturo (he made a very good corpse too!), though extra praise must go to Clive Bailey. The sextet was amazing, and all the characters were vocally very good.
The set was for the most part stark, and very atmospheric. The scene in Wolf's Crag particularly so. What was of great interest was the revival of the original instrument scored to accompany the turbulent madness of Il dolce suono. The owner of the original instrument walked out in a pay dispute before the debut performance, taking his instrument with him!
Most listeners would be used to the flute in this role, but tonight it was the eerie, etherial sounds of the glass harmonica. The effect of this strange instrument was to highlight the internal world into which Lucia was descending, a world which we could not fully understand or comprehend.
Overall, a great performance. One well worth seeing and, I think, one which can really shed light on the destructive power of emotions. It is doubly poigniant as Donizetti himself went mad, and it is said that only the Mad Scene of Lucia could draw from him a reaction.