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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Bohemian Landscapes: Dvorák and Mahler,  Matthias Goerne (bar), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Manfred Honeck (conductor) Symphony Hall, Birmingham 10.06.2006 (BK)

Dvorák : Symphony No. 8 in G, Op.88 (B163)

Mahler: Songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn


Der Schildwache Nachtlied
Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen
Das irdische Leben

Lied des verfolgten in Turm
Verlorne Müh'!
Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
Lob der hohen Verstands
Der Tambourg'sell



The keyword for this concert was 'intelligence.' Admirably intelligent conducting from Manfred Honeck coupled with the CBSO's habitually intelligent playing and Matthias Goerne's remarkably artistry added up to one of the most satisfying concerts of the year so far. Not a note, not a word was out of place anywhere, but more importantly than either of these, not a thought seemed misplaced either.


Melanie Eskenazi's 'Seen and Heard' interviews with Matthias Goerne (the second is here ) reveal him to be a great and yet modest artist despite his many spectacular successes. Mr. Goerne seems deeply committed to a personal artistic integrity in his performances, even to the point of cheerfully expecting that critics will sometimes dislike what he does. How refreshing then, to find similar characteristics in Manfred Honeck, the conductor for this concert in which all notions of personal self-importance were conspicuously absent.


Like many other first-rate orchestras, the CBSO could probably play the Dvorák Eighth in its sleep, even though there are some tricky moments in this complex but finely wrought score. Acknowledging the orchestra's capacities from the outset, Mr Honeck conducted with admirable restraint, using extremely economical gestures essentially only to set tempi, to sustain balance in each of the four movements and very occasionally to signal emphasis. The resulting tour de force - because this was as fine a performance as I can remember - was therefore the orchestra's achievement: Manfred Honeck let the musicians play and they responded wholeheartedly with a truly inspired reading, easily on a par with the famous Decca Kertesz / LSO cycle of Dvorák symphonies. Thrilling, lyrical and manifestly Bohemian, this was the CBSO at its very best.


On then to Matthias Goerne, for whose voice and artistry, there seem never to be sufficient superlatives. Singing himself in, so to speak, with Der Schildwache Nachtlied, the soldier's military music was contrasted beautifully with the tenderness of the girl's comments. It was done so well, and was so much in sympathy with the text that it became easy to understand Goerne's recent decision to sing Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben in London (review) a work - naturally enough, given its subject matter - usually sung by sopranos and mezzos. Goerne doesn't just care about text and music; he invests both with thoughtful and personalised meaning.


Matthias Goerne's voice is one of exceptional beauty, subtlety and power, which contains all of the vocal colours that Mahler undoubtedly had in mind for these songs. Over the next fifty minutes of this concert, the full range of his capacities was displayed time and again to produce an object lesson for other singers and audience alike on how these songs can  - and probably should - sound.

The success of this performance was aided in no small measure by the expert and sensitive accompaniment provided by the CBSO under Manfred Honeck's direction. In a very real sense, these settings are scored for several different 'orchestras' - often with a chamber orchestra-like sound in mind  - and Mahler had insisted that the small hall of the Vienna Musikverein was used for the work's first performance. As an Austrian who has worked with all of the major Viennese orchestras, Manfred Honeck is obviously steeped in the tradition that underpins this music. His careful attention to the nuances of the varied orchestral groupings that each song requires was very impressive and made him the perfect foil to Matthias Goerne's extraordinary artistry.


The rapport between soloist and conductor was tangible and while the opportunity to hear Goerne is always worth some effort, it was the obvious shared respect between everyone involved in this concert that made the long journey to Birmingham so rewarding.




Bill Kenny



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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)