Joyful Wonderment: Die Schöpfung at the Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid

Reinecke – Flute Concerto in D major op. 283

Flute – Emmanuel Pahud

Haydn – Die Schöpfung

Gabriel, Eva – Berit Solset
Uriel – Augustín Prunell-Friend
Raphael, Adam – José Antonio López

Coro Nacional de España, Orquesta Nacional de España / Juanjo Mena.
Concert Performance.

Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid, Spain.  Saturday, December, 17th, 2016.

The theme for the 2016 – 17 season of the Orquesta Nacional de España is ‘locuras’.  I don’t quite see how either the Reinecke concerto or Schöpfung fit into this category but they are doing a concert Elektra early in the new year with Lise Lindstrom which certainly does.  Tonight was my first encounter with Reinecke’s music and while I’m glad to have had the opportunity, I can’t say it’s one I’m longing to repeat.  The best way I could describe it would be as ‘forgettable Brahms’ and while it was given the best possible advocacy by Emmanuel Pahud and the orchestra, it didn’t really leave me wanting more.

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Emmanuel Pahud and the Orquesta Nacional de España conducted by Juanjo Mena © Fernando Marcos

The Schöpfung on the other hand was something quite different.  This was one of these performances that might not have been note perfect but was absolutely winning and uplifting in its own way.  It started well with strings playing the prelude senza vibrato but it was clear early on that intonation in the strings would be troublesome and it really wasn’t suitable for those of a sensitive disposition.  That big burst of light on ‘es ward Licht’ had all the impact it could while a mature lady searched for her ringing phone in her purse.  Yet as the performance progressed it completely won me over.  There was a joy to the singing of the Coro Nacional de España that was absolutely infectious.  Yes, the sopranos weren’t always unanimous in their pitching but they sang with such full-throated, uninhibited generosity that one was simply swept along.  There was little routine in their singing, rather it felt that they took the words of ‘mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk’ to heart and exuded real wonderment and awe in this glorious music that they had to sing.  Their diction was also very clear.

Juanjo Mena led a reading that was notable for its genial spirit.  Some of his tempi were very slow, especially in part 3, but on the whole it worked well and he marshalled the forces well.  The band, as I mentioned, wasn’t quite precise.  The violins in particular quite raw in tuning but the woodwinds had real personality.  Sadly I missed a little raspiness in the brass since they were using modern instruments but they played well enough.  Mena used a harpsichord for the recitatives and the player made his presence felt in the ensembles, though I do wish he had used a fortepiano – this is just personal taste.  A chamber organ supplemented the textures where required.

The solo singing was somewhat variable but there was one sensational performance.  Agustín Prunell-Friend’s tenor sounded like he might have been suffering from an indisposition.  The emissions weren’t always even, threatening to crack at a few points.  It’s a sappy sound and very light.  José Antonio López is most certainly a baritone and perhaps lacks the low extension of some other interpreters.  His German is very good and he sang with great spirit and personality.

Berit Solset is a new name for me but one I recommend looking up.  The Norwegian soprano is something very special indeed.  She is the ideal Haydn interpreter with a voice of crystalline effortlessness.  Her beautiful, unblemished tone has a rare purity and tickles the ear most delightfully.  She also really understands the style adding some beguiling appoggiature and some sensitive embellishments as in ‘Auf starken Fittiche schwinget sich der Adler stolz’.  The voice is absolutely even from top to bottom and she exudes total enjoyment in her music making.  Solset is a lovely singer and one I hope to get to hear a lot more of.

In these dark days we search for comfort and we most certainly had it tonight.  This was a performance that genuinely lived and had real passion and enthusiasm.  Indeed as the chorus sang ‘und eine neue Welt’ it brought a tear to my eye because in the uninhibited joyfulness of the performance of this music there is the key of a better world.  One can only hope that it will be forthcoming.

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The Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid © Francisco
The Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid © Francisco
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