Nagano Conducts Rihm and Beintus

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RIHM: Das Gehege.* BEINTUS: Le Petite Prince+ / *Rayanne Dupuis, sop; +Kirsten Ecke, harp; +Eva-Christiana Schönweiss, vln; Deutsches Symphonie-Orch. Berlin; Kent Nagano, cond / Capriccio C5337

I was not provided any liner notes with the download of this album for review, but only the following blurb on the Naxos download site:

When Kent Nagano assumed the direction of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in autumn 2006, he had intended a new production of Richard Strauss’ Salome as one of the first premieres. He wanted to precede the challenging one-act opera after Oscar Wilde’s drama with a new music theatre work. He turned to Wolfgang Rihm. “I replied,” Rihm said in an interview with Die Zeit: “There’s only one thing: the final scene from Schlusschor by Botho Strauß. Nagano’s commission became the catalyst in transforming this desire into reality. This is the genesis of Das Gehege, a nocturnal scene for soprano and orchestra. Kent Nagano and Jean-Pascal Beintus (* 1966) met in the orchestra pit of the Opéra de Lyon in 1988. After considering the first orchestral manuscripts, the maestro, known for his openness and great erudition, encouraged the young man to expand his musical career. Several pictorial projects came to Nagano’s mind, which he entrusted to Beintus’ musical imagination: first, Wolf Tracks for reciter and orchestra (recorded with the speakers Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachov), for which Beintus was awarded a Grammy in 2004, before in 2008 writing for the family concerts of the German Symphony Orchestra in Berlin a suite on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s omnipresent The Little Prince.

All of which sounds pretty confusing and politically slanted to me, and in my mind The Little Prince is complete rubbish, but there you are. Without visuals, however, all we have to go by on this CD is the actual music. The Rihm piece, interesting modern music which is well-written and dramatic, is sadly marred by the loose vibrato (read: wobble) of soprano Rayenne Dupuis. To editorialize a moment, in the old days conductors actually went to great lengths to procure the services of singers without wobbles, strained top ranges etc. whenever they recorded a work—any work, whether modern or old-timey. Nowadays, it seems as if whatever the hell is available is what gets on records, and although Dupuis seems to give a pretty dramatic reading of the text (whatever it is), and surprisingly has a good low range, the overall effect is consistently marred by her incessant wobbling. Like much of Rihm’s music, the phrases have no real endings or resolutions, but merely feed into the next sequence with frequent mood shifts. It’s intellectually interesting music, but not emotionally moving except in Dupuis’ delivery of the text. Unfortunately, all I could find about Strauβ’ Schlusschor was the following:

The piece consists of three almost completely separate documents, each portraying a group of people. In the first act titled See and be seen, there are 15 men and women posing for a group photo. While the photographer is looking for the right shot, the people in four rows are talking in confusion. They are incoherent, individual scraps of conversation, which could come from any company outing.

The photo shoot is long (photographer: “I photograph you until you are a face, a head – a mouth – a look, a face!”), The group becomes impatient and begins to make absurd threats against the To eject photographers. After a “cannonade of short loud orders” it gets dark. “When it gets light again,” the director’s statement says, “the photographers only have a bundle of clothes and their shoes on the floor.” – The second act is entitled Lorenz vor dem Spiegel (From the World of Providence). Lorenz is an architect and is mistaken in the door of his client Delia’s apartment. He surprised the naked Delia in the bathroom – a trivial incident with a tragic outcome. In the subsequent conversation – actually about the extension of their attic – the language comes in increasingly mannered becoming, mythically exaggerated tone again and again on the accidental encounter in the bathroom.

While comparing Delia’s unadorned beauty with works of art, she reminds him of the fate of Actaeon, whom the hunting goddess Diana, after seeing her in the bathroom, turned into a deer and then was mangled by his own dogs. The second scene takes place in the cloakroom of a villa, which is visited by the guests of a party – one by one, in pairs – by the “woman in reed green”, the “unthought”, the “bitter man”. Fragments of the party conversation can be heard. Among the guests is Lorenz, the architect who repeatedly steps in front of the large wardrobe mirror to encourage himself for his encounter with Delia.

When he, after a seemingly failed performance, just wants to go, Delia appears in the mirror, “naked as in the beginning, in the same pose”. Lorenz shoots himself. – The third act, from now on, takes place in a restaurant. Between the conversation of the guests proclaimed “The caller”, who in the second act again and again drew attention with a bellowed “Germany”, the fall of the wall. A couple from the other appear and the noblewoman Anita von Schastorf relies on her monarchical dreams. The piece ends with Anita releasing a golden eagle from the zoo to kill.

Three groups of people, as it were three choirs, but not singing in unison, but, resolved into more or less faceless figures, banalities in between two dead and – brilliant conclusion – the slaughtered heraldic animal of the Federal Republic – but everything seems equally significant or insignificant , the little private stories as well as the sometimes conjured up myths and – the historical moment of the fall of the Wall.

Benjamin Henrichs called the play “the microscopy of the micro drama”: “the shortest and fastest pieces in the world: every movement a drama for itself.” At the same time he sees in it “something like the final assembly of all known Botho-Strauss faces and – feelings. A pile of shards, a garbage table, a crawl box of the most beautiful sentences and effects. Not a “museum of passions” but a bazaar of bagatelles. ”

I hope this helps. I confess to being baffled by all this German expressionism: killing golden eagles from a zoo, “unthoughts:” of “bitter men,” etc. And how this relates to Salome seems pretty far-fetched to me. But then, although I certainly do like a certain amount of symbolism, I’ve always felt that too much of it is just intellectual B.S.

By contrast, Beintus’ Little Prince suite is modern music with classical form and charm, although with a heavy dose of Romantic goop in the opening piece. This, however, changes in the second piece, “Apparition du Petit Prince,” which has more interesting harmonies, but returns in the third and continues to the end.

If I had the full text to the Rihm piece I might appreciate it more. The music is indeed interesting despite the heavy symbolism. The second piece is sure to turn up on your local classical music station in the near future! Excellent performances of both, however.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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