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‘House Music’ at The Royal Opera House: Mozart, Vaughan Williams Ian Bostridge, Antonio Pappano, Peter Manning (violin) Jan Schmolck (violin) Andriy Viytovych (Viola) Christopher Vanderspar (Cello)  25.06 2006. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden  (M E) 


Mozart, trio in E flat K563

Vaughan Williams, On Wenlock Edge.


‘Mummy, why does he make all those twisty faces when he sings?’ Thus my 8 year old, referring to Ian Bostridge at her first chamber music recital, this one in the ROH’s afternoon ‘House Music’ series, aimed at ‘music lovers of all ages.’ The idea is a noble one: charge only £5 for children to hear great music performed by the finest soloists, in the spectacularly lovely setting of the Floral Hall, but my problem with it was the choice of music: K563 is a great work, but it is far too long, too subtle and too serious for a Sunday afternoon concert aimed at ‘music lovers of all ages’ – and whilst ‘On Wenlock Edge’ is ideal in length, it too is rather burdened with sorrow for the 8 year olds amongst us. One can guess how this all arose – someone read somewhere that the composer had referred to K563 as ‘a Divertimento… in 6 movements’ so they thought ‘Oh yes, a nice little Divertimento, just right.’ Not. The searing heat under that glass roof did not help, either, but then you can’t blame either the composer or the ROH for that.


Despite the heat and the hopeless acoustics – this vast cavern was meant for the selling of flowers, not the playing of chamber music - the three instrumentalists, all from the ROH orchestra, gave a fine, if at times rather too slow, performance of the Mozart, especially in the wonderful Andante, although the minuets lacked something in the sprightliness department – small wonder, as it must have been 90F in there. Things had cooled a little by the second half, in which they were joined by the tenor, as well as the house’s Music Director, no less, and a second violin to give a highly dramatic account of On Wenlock Edge. Bostridge does indeed make faces when he sings, but then he always does, no matter what the music, and one is used to this, except for the nagging feeling that it’s all a bit overdone. He sings it knowledgeably, of course, with plenty of attention given to Housman’s poetry, but I felt that this was an especially generalized performance: the same anger was displayed, the same sardonic, resentful, cruel edge, at every point, resulting in a loss of contrast.


Naturally  the audience loved it, and demanded an encore ( of course, this was during ‘The Match’ so we were all only too pleased to be where we were before the trolls emerged onto the streets after either the ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ – it was all the same to this audience, one suspects) which was another ‘Bredon Hill,’  - very strongly characterized, but shouldn’t the voice rise up out of the music in that first line, evoking a Summer haze, and shouldn’t ‘Oh noisy bells, be  dumb’ involve a kind of frank release of emotion rather than just the same anger? This is Bostridge’s way, these days – and however generalized the emotions, this was still a wonderful way to spend that Sunday afternoon.


Melanie Eskenazi 




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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)