House of Dreams was conceived by Alison Mackay, the bass player of Tafelmusik, as a mixture of live music, narration and film or still pictures. It has been performed in this way in Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. In turn it presents music and pictures relating to London, Venice, Delft, Paris and Leipzig. A linking narration explains the connection between what is heard and what is seen. The music is varied, mainly comprising isolated movements from longer works. The longest section is a Suite from Main Marais’ opera Alcyone, and the shortest two brief movements by Purcell. The whole show is contained on the DVD but the CD has only the musical sections. I am unclear as to whether it derives from the same recording as is on the DVD.
To take the DVD first, I can easily see that the show could make a considerable effect when experienced live. Having it on disc is however a different experience. Whilst when a photograph of a great painting is shown on a screen behind the orchestra the viewer is at liberty to examine it at their own pace and in their own way, the viewer is here restricted to what is chosen by the directors of the DVD; several are named. The camera tends to pick odd parts of pictures, and moves from one part to another in a restless manner. There is live film of London (the Handel House) and Venice but the other cities are represented by pictures. The narration makes connections between the music, the cities and the pictures. It is of modest interest but uninterestingly delivered and did not wear well on a second viewing. Worst of all, the players, whose previous performances on CD I have enjoyed immensely, are seen here to posture and play about in performance in a manner which is distracting and self-indulgent. When heard on the CD it is clear that these are well considered, rhythmically exciting and poised performances but this is obscured by the antics seen on screen. Others may react differently to this, and it may well be that they were persuaded by the directors of the show that audiences would find it more audience-friendly and “accessible”. If so, I think that they are wrong, and that playing of this quality would still appeal even if the players were invisible behind a screen. As it is, the constant synchronised (just about) bowings towards each other and what often seem like forced smiles look as if they are imposed on the performance rather than arising from it. The performances themselves, however, are excellent, with the various soloists - most of the orchestra take their turn at this - playing with terrific style and making me long to hear them in the whole works from which the various movements are chosen. Tafelmusik have long been one of my favourite orchestras and the playing here shows them on top form.
The choice of music is at first sight strange, with no obvious reason why one movement should follow another. In practice however the mixture works well and the CD makes for good listening without too many disconcerting jerks from item to item. I have returned to it with considerable pleasure.
I would imagine that this set will appeal to anyone wanting a souvenir having enjoyed the show live. For others the CD certainly presents an attractive and very well played if quirky programme but the DVD should be approached with caution.
Contents of CD
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Prelude to “As with rosy steps” from Theodora [1:48]
Allegro from Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 5 [2:31]
Vivace from Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 2 [1:50]
Allegro from Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 1 [2:36]
Dances from Alcina [5:37]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Largo from Concerto for lute RV 93 [4:52]
Allegro from Concerto for 2 oboes RV 535 [2:42]
Allegro from Concerto for bassoon RV 484 [3:09]
Allegro from Concerto for 2 cellos RV 531 [3:03]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1629)
Englese Fortuyn [2:38]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Fantasia in 3 parts upon a ground [4:29]
Third Act tune from The Indian Queen [1:37]
Symphony from St Cecilia Ode [1:16]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Suite from Alcyone [16:25]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Gigue from Trio Sonata in C BWV 1037 [3:33]
Largo after Aria from Cantata 135 [3:30]
Allegro from Concerto for 2 violins BWV1043 [4:31]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Ouverture from Wassermusik [5:31]