Cooper’s London

 

What to See and to Hear:
Opera To See
Francesco Cavalli (1602 – 1676), Il Giasone

I’ve been watching the DVDs of some operas by Monteverdi and Cavalli lately, all of them new, modernist stage productions. For me the real discovery is Cavalli’s Il Giasone from Antwerp. The production has been controversial – some loving it and some hating it. It is definitely part of the new approach to old opera. I am more towards the loving it end of the scale and in no way wish to quibble, because the opera itself has simply bowled me over. It was premiered in 1649 in Venice and was the most popular opera of the 17th century. Why did it fall out of favour? Probably because music moved on into the full flourish of the Baroque era, and possibly because the mix of tragedy, comedy and sheer farce in the libretto was not to later tastes.

Jason is a very modern anti-hero in this telling of the story of how he stole the fleece and a few female hearts along the way. The performance, filmed in the Vlaamse Opera of Antwerp/Ghent, is musically brilliant, with special note having to be made of Katarina Bradic’s brilliant Medea and Robin Johannsen’s moving Isifile, and the idiomatic conducting of Federico Maria Sardelli. But the star of the show is Christophe Dumaux’s sexy, cheeky and wholly captivating counter-tenor Giasone. The DVD and Blu-ray versions are brilliantly filmed and simply stunning to look at.

Francesco Cavalli (1602 – 1676), Il Giasone
Christopher Dumaux, Katarina Bradic, Robin Johannsen/
Symphony Orchestra of the Vlaamse Opera Antwerp/Ghent.
Conductor: Federico Maria Sardelli (Dynamic 55663)

 

Piano To Hear

Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas. H J Lim, Piano.
8 CDs EMI 4 6495222 2 8 Stereo DDD

H J Lim may only be 25, but she has, for my money, such a huge enthusiasm and sympathy for the piano sonatas of Beethoven that she’s certainly one of the leaders of her generation in playing them. She has worked her way through most of them for a new recording (omitting 19 and 20, the two that Beethoven felt he wrote merely as exercises for his students and never wanted to publish) and she has collected them into thematically organized recitals about which she writes copious, sometimes illuminating and sometimes pretentious booklet notes that certainly enhance one’s enjoyment of acquiring the set. They also show her to be committed to the musicology, the history of the compositions and Beethoven’s psychological states.

The moment you put on the recordings, what she says or why she omitted two sonatas is totally irrelevant. Several people have hated the set. I got completely caught up in the pianism, the imagination, the telling interpretations of each individual sonata and was swept away by the profound sense of an overall viewpoint and mastery that astonished me.

Lim plays on a Yamaha that is a bit more astringent and wiry of tone in the upper registers than would usually suit my taste―but I got used to that very quickly and even wondered if it was not, for these performances, the perfect choice. This piano helps you note a technique that is Spartan in its clarity; and speeds that are at times more Baroque than Romantic. It’s like hearing a fortepiano but with much more body and range.

There isn’t one sonata that is unconvincing in the H J Lim’s hands, and the sense of her love of and respect for these works is all-encompassing. I will not give up listening to Schnabel, Ashkenazy, Richard Goode, Aimard, Uchida, Pollini, Brendel, or Barenboim any time soon; but I’m certainly going to add these intensely convincing interpretations―sometimes astonishing, always interesting ―to the shelf that holds the master pianists and listen to them as often as possible. And I sure as hell wish she’d incorporated the two missing sonatas!

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