Ethereal Beauty: Elias at the DR Koncerthuset

Mendelssohn – Elias

Elias – Christopher Purves
Engel, Witwe, soprano  – Karina Gauvin
Engel, Königin, contralto – Roxana Constantinescu
Obadjah, Ahab, tenor – Colin Balzer

Chorsolisten – Kim Jihye, Klaudia Kidon (soprano), Hanna-Maria Strand (mezzo-soprano), Tobias Nilsson (countertenor), Adam Riis, Palle Skovlund (tenor), Torsten Nielsen, Steffen Bruun (bass).

DR Koncert Koret, DR Symfoni Orkestret / Suzuki Masaaki.
Concert performance.

DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, Denmark.  Saturday, March 5th, 2016.

Today marked my first visit to the stunning Copenhagen Koncerthuset.  Opened in 2009 as part of a media village for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation it is an exceptionally beautiful venue.  Seating 1800, the Jean Nouvel-designed auditorium is a stunning wood-panelled undulating vessel in which to appreciate fine performances.  The acoustic is extremely resonant and from my seat in the parterre seemed relatively bass-heavy and somewhat boomy.  This could have been accentuated by the presence of the impressive house organ during the ensembles.  The chorus sounded somewhat disembodied, almost ethereal from my position, the sound seemingly hovering in the air.  For a work such as Elias it certainly added an appropriately devotional halo around the sound though I wonder how the hall would sound with a smaller band for example.  It’s a hall that I have wanted to visit for some time and I was very happy to finally be able to attend an event there.

DR Koncerthuset © Forgemind ArchiMedia
DR Koncerthuset © Forgemind ArchiMedia

This was definitely a big-band performance of the piece.  The orchestra was at full strength and the 70 professional voices of the DR Koncert Koret hovered over the orchestral sound with ease.  Suzuki Masaaki’s conducting was at one with that approach.  His conducting seemed to vary between adagio and andante and was a congenial amble through the score.  This was an interpretation where beauty was prioritized over religious fervour.  Suzuki achieved some excellent playing from the very fine DR Symfoni Orkestret.  The strings, full of tone using ample vibrato, the woodwinds full of personality and the brass solid.  The organ was a constant presence in the ensembles adding even more warmth to the sound.

Suzuki Maasaki © Marco Borggreve
Suzuki Maasaki © Marco Borggreve

Christopher Purves brought a lieder singer’s attention to the words.  His was very much an intellectual Elias rather than a fiery prophet.  This approach worked best in ‘es ist genug’ sung with a genuine gravitas that ideally portrayed the prophet’s resignation.   He did pull out some exciting volume in his repeated cries of ‘rufet lauter’.  Today was the second performance after a show the previous evening and Purves did sound rather tired, to the extent that lines weren’t being fully sustained and the voice took on a graininess towards the end.  I wonder whether Purves was in fact indisposed and no announcement made.

Christopher Purves © Bernd Uhlig
Christopher Purves © Bernd Uhlig

Colin Balzer brought an attractive light, lyric tenor to his part.  The sound of this British Columbia singer is perhaps one that one would find in the English cathedral tradition.  The top seems to be somewhat disconnected from the rest of the voice with the registers perhaps not ideally integrated and the top seemingly awkwardly produced.  He does have a very attractive line that was really brought to the fore in ‘so ihr mich von ganzem Herzen suchet’.

Colin Balzer © Catherina Hess
Colin Balzer © Catherina Hess

Roxana Constantinescu is the owner of a very attractive contralto.  She wasn’t afraid to deliver some exciting chest voice as the Queen in Part 2 and her imperious manner was ideal.  The sound has a wonderful depth and roundness that is very attractive.  Very occasionally the tone seems to have a tendency to curdle somewhat but she is a young singer and this is surely something that will come with time.  Her ‘sei stille dem Herrn’ was sung with beautifully long phrases and warmth of tone.

Roxana Constantinescu © Marius Baragan
Roxana Constantinescu © Marius Baragan

Karina Gauvin brought all of her usual musicality to her part.  The tone as always was ripe and had a rounded beauty that is always a pleasure to listen to.  She sang her big set piece ‘höre Israel’ with the fervour of a gospel preacher.  In their opening duet she blended ravishingly with Constantinescu and the temperature on stage seemed to rise every time either of the ladies sang.  Gauvin’s was a highly reliable and professional performance sung with insight and impeccably clear diction, as indeed was the case for all the cast.

Karina Gauvin © Julien Faugère
Karina Gauvin © Julien Faugère

The DR Koncert Koret was outstanding.  Prepared by Bart van Reyn, the blend achieved was absolutely staggering; from the gossamer sopranos to the claret-toned mezzos, the bright tenors and the solid basses – this was choral singing of an extremely rare quality.  It goes without saying that diction was excellent, ensemble was absolutely unanimous and they were clearly responsive to Suzuki’s approach.  The individual voices in the quartets, octets and trios were drawn from within the chorus and demonstrated clearly the exceptional quality of the voices that make up this superb group.

DR Koncert Koret ©Camilla Utke Sioeler
DR Koncert Koret ©Camilla Utke Sioeler

As I mentioned at the outset, this was a performance that really emphasized the beauty of the piece and was superbly performed by the resident DR forces.  Certainly the solo singing from the ladies was outstanding, the gentlemen perhaps suffering from an unannounced disposition.  The venue itself is a highly impressive place in which to listen to choral and orchestral music and I am delighted to finally have been able to attend a show there.  It is a landmark in 21st century concert hall design and the excellence of the DR forces make a visit there well worthwhile.  I certainly hope to be back soon.

 

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