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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

Wagner, Turnage, Mozart at the Berwald Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, 10.12.2005 (GF)



Swedish Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding. Soloists: Sandrine Piau, (soprano), Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), Jesper Taube (baritone).




Daniel Harding, after a formidable comet career, is appointed principal guest conductor of the LSO from next year and in 2007 he will take over as principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra after Manfred Honeck who has been in charge since 2000. It is a brilliant ensemble he is going to preside over, having before Honeck’s regime been fostered by the likes of Esa-Pekka Salonen and Evgeny Svetlanov. Judging from what I heard on Saturday afternoon, which was a reprise of the Friday concert, broadcast by EBU, there is every reason to expect a fruitful co-operation, the scope of repertoire showing that he is equally at home in a wide variety of styles. The prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal, which in lesser hands can be just dull, was given a taut and concentrated reading, building the long arc up to the three fanfares with subsequent timpani rolls and then back again with the utmost conviction. The solemn atmosphere was so outspoken that it took quite some time before the applause came, and then seemingly reluctantly. This music well played is something of a bath of purification for the soul and this afternoon at least the soul of this reviewer felt uncommonly purified.

Every department of the orchestra needs to be extremely sensitive to bring this music out satisfactorily and so they were. Sensitivity of a quite different kind is needed in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Scherzoid, composed in 2004 and getting its Scandinavian premiere at these two concerts. The title is a play with words, putting together “scherzo” and “schizoid”. Formally the piece consists of three scherzo parts interspersed with two sections of a more introspective character. Drawing his inspiration to a great extent from jazz (Miles Davis and his jazz-fusion is mentioned in the programme notes) the music has some resemblance with big band music but just as obvious are his nods to Stravinsky (Rites of Spring), Gershwin and Bernstein. It is ferociously rhythmic music, structurally complicated with several layers of rhythms overlapping each other and although there are not many “tunes” of the kind you can hum its still melodic, albeit fragmentary. During the second “intermezzo” a heart-rending saxophone solo is heard but then it’s touch and go again with a myriad of details in all departments and of course the percussionists had a field day. Rhythmic precision is of course the Alpha and Omega of this work and the orchestra were admirable, many of the players visibly enjoying themselves hugely. Turnage’s normally unsmiling appearance was definitely mitigated by the whole composition which, although with some darker streaks, is an Ode to Joy and in the final pages he treats himself to a hilarious joke when he, like some great names in the history of music is seemingly unable to stop. If the Parsifal prelude was a spiritual purification this was the secular equivalent.

After the interval the orchestra returned reduced and rearranged to 18th century conditions with the violins divided left – right, cellos in the middle and double basses and violas behind, the Swedish Radio Chorus neatly placed behind the wind players and the four soloists also behind the orchestra. Mozart’s Mass in c minor, like the Requiem left unfinished, is one of his greatest creations and Daniel Harding shed light upon its diversity. As could be expected he found a lightness of tone in the Kyrie, and Sandrine Piau sang the soprano solo accordingly.

The Gloria was powerful without being unnecessarily monumental. In Laudamus te Sarah Connolly was excellent with good coloratura. Qui tollis was intense and filled with contrasts and the “hit” song, Et incarnatus est, so often performed slowly and syrupy, was again light and flowing with exquisitely transparent woodwind and Sandrine Piau’s voice blending well, singing ravishingly. The two male singers have little to do in this work but what they had, they did well. The chorus is of course rightly famous, collaborating regularly with conductors like Abbado and Muti, and they were indeed excellent: such elasticity and vitality and the homogenous sound that is their hallmark. Add to this a power that is remarkable for such a small body of singers (they are only 30). The Sanctus movement was really mighty.

Full marks, then, for all participants and it seems that we can look forward to Daniel Harding’s tenure as principal conductor with confidence. Next on the agenda is the by now traditional Twelfth Day Concert with soloists Nina Stemme and Bryn Terfel, which I also hope to report on.



Göran Forsling





Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)