WNO/Hanus review – players with an instinct to make every line sing | Classical music

Britten, Dvořák, Wagner and Janáček: there were no obvious connecting threads in conductor Tomáš Hanus’s programme with his Welsh National Opera orchestra. By the end of evening, though, that didn’t seem to have mattered. These musicians’ deeply embedded instinct for making each and every line sing is always their strongest quality, distinguishing their concert platform appearances and immediately borne out in the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes. From its austere, calm, opening through to the elemental battering of the storm, the lyricism of each phrase was implicit, not only descriptive but helping define the tortured relationship both of the villagers and of Grimes himself with the sea.

Slovak mezzo Jana Kurucová was the soloist in the first five of Dvořák’s cycle of 10 Biblical Songs, Op. 99. Originally conceived for voice and piano, these five are the ones orchestrated by the composer himself. Setting verses from the psalms in the Czech of his Kralice Bible, Dvořák moves easily from quiet intimacy to more dramatic outbursts. Kurucová, her sound carrying a warm glow as well as touches of Slav timbre, coloured the words with great sensitivity, notably in the fifth setting of verses from Psalm 144, Bože! Bože! Píseň novou (I will sing a new song, O God), where the joyous dancing feel reverts to gentle contemplation by the close.

In Wagner’s Prelude und Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Hanus balanced tenderness with exactitude, yet unafraid to indulge in extremes of dynamics and gradually building an increasingly impassioned flow. But, perhaps not surprisingly, since he and the orchestra are currently living and breathing Janáček in the company’s fine production of The Makropulos Affair – catch remaining performances before Arts Council England’s indiscriminate axe threatens WNO’s commitment to English cities – it was his Sinfonietta that ended the concert with maximum fervour. Hanus, himself a native of the Brno depicted by Janáček with such idiomatic and gutsy character, steered a clear trajectory from the opening of brass fanfare through to its glorious return in the last movement, inspiring wonderfully resonant playing from all his players.

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