Review: WNO Orchestra - Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin @ SDH
It is New Year and it's time to be "spellbound" with Welsh National Opera, who have taken this phrase as the basis for the spring season of opera.
I was sure spellbound with last summer's season, with a world premier and three new productions. But with acclaimed stagings of The Magic Flute, Hansel & Gretel and Chorus! (choral highlights of operas) this will be a good new years treat.
In this concert WNO have chosen some magical and mysterious works for a concert, resulting in a satisfying start to things. The Noonday Witch by Dvořák began with charming folk melodies. The bass clarinet has some super drones in the middle and the over the top climaxes depicting the witch in pursuit of a child and eventually murdering him is also noteworthy.
Olga Scheps was the piano soloist for Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. Her delicate and sincerely vigorous delivery is totally sound. The battle of soloist and orchestra is best summed up in the opening of the slow movement, Andante con moto. The player has to be calm and quiet, as the ensemble fuse and stamp forward in their duties. This has rekindled a love of old Ludwig's work.
A sliver of Debussy in his famous Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). Later transformed into a ballet (featuring a self-pleasuring faun) the music is well regarded for its evocative flute solo that starts off the piece. For those musically literate, the flute commits a chromatic descent to a tritone under the first pitch, following the subsequent ascent. The whole piece is gorgeous in its orchestration and is a zesty as home made lemonade.
Ending with a bang was Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin. This smutty and stellar score is another ballet that caused a sensation. With prostitutes, criminals and murder, it's a nod to The Rite of Spring and a slap at sprawling city life. It's a blockbuster score and even this being just the suite version, is enough to blast at an audience a fierce sound world.
WNO's Spellbound season is The Magic Flute, Hansel & Gretel and Chorus! at the WMC, then on tour this spring.
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Photo Credit: Uwe Arens