2010.04.14 20:01

정명훈의 샌프란시스코 Ravel 공연 - SF Classical Voice (3/7/10)

모처럼 기억에 남을만한 훌륭한 공연을 감상했다. 그 정도의 연주를 만들어낸 사람이 같은 한국인 정명훈씨였기에 더욱 자랑스럽고 감사하기도 했다. 이날 특히 비범했던 관악기와 타악기군을 보면서 '우리 동네 오케스트라도 이렇게 잘할 수 있구나'하고 잠깐이나마 뿌듯한 느낌을 가졌었는데, 나중에 알고보니 지휘자를 따라 프랑스에서 온 국립 라디오 오케스트라였음을 알게되어 다소나마 허탈하기도 했다. 다 좋았지만 그 가운데서도 Daphnis, 그리고 그 중에서도 마지막 general dance에서 고조되어 완결짓는 그 귀를 잡아끄는 음악의 이미지의 여운이 지금도 쉽게 사라지질 않는다.  '음악의 '텍스츄어'란 이런 것을 뜻하는 거였구나' 하는 진가를 알게해준 음악인들에게 감사한다.    


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"Ravishing Ravel"

Last week was a big week for Maurice Ravel’s music at Davies Symphony Hall. Hard on the heels of the four San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts that included Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, Sunday evening saw a large, all-Ravel program by the visiting Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under its conductor, Myung-Whun Chung. Yet in a way, the most memorable part of all this was Sunday’s glorious vocalism by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.

Chung began with the complete Ma Mère l’oye (Mother Goose) ballet score, which was followed by von Otter’s sensational performance of the composer’s Shéhérazade cycle. Following intermission, there were the first and second Daphnis et Chloé Suites. Plus La Valse! The concert was so overpoweringly plush that I wondered if I had been putting on weight via my ears. And to my surprise, Chung conducted all of this long program almost entirely from memory, and with consistent artistry of the highest kind.

Shéhérazade, Ravel’s most erotic work, consists of three songs: the large “Asie” (Asia) with full orchestra, followed by two more intimate creations using smaller forces, “La Flûte enchantée” (The enchanted flute) and “L’Indifférent” (The indifferent one). In the first, the singer dreams of traveling to Asia, underlined by undulating sea music, followed by a kind of sonic travelogue.

Initially, there’s “ ... Damascus and the cities of Persia” where “Vizirs, who, with the crook of a finger, dispense life or death as the spirit moves them.” That’s followed by an absolutely magical moment in the history of orchestral music as the singer intones, “... and then — China.” Whereupon the large orchestra swoons into an orgy of glorious sounds, before the words, “I desire to see roses and blood, I’d like to see men dying of love or else of hate.” (Tristan Klingsor’s art deco poetry will tolerate no restraint of taste.)

“The Enchanted Flute” depicts a maiden at night, awake as her master sleeps, listening to a sensuous flutist out in the night. Whereas “The Indifferent One” covers a woman in her doorway, as a pretty young man passes, and she offers him a glass of wine, calling out, “Enter, and let my wine refresh you. But no, you pass on.”

These songs obviously require a wide variety of emotional timbres, volume levels, and sonic coloration. Most of the singing must be barely above a whisper, and yet there are spots in “Asie” where the singer had to raise her volume to near-Wagnerian levels to overcome Ravel’s fierce orchestral tuttis.

Von Otter, attired in an Asian-style dress of teal-blue sheen trimmed in gold cloth, met the full measure of the composer’s demands. Her control over extreme dynamics, her flawless intonation, her rhythmic accuracy — all seemed so effortless as to be uncanny. She made everything sound as natural and as easy as projecting a chorale in whole notes. Here we heard vocal artistry at its finest.

Mother Goose began life as a set of five easy pieces for piano four hands for children, and then, like Topsy, it just grew and grew. Ravel orchestrated the Suite for a modest-size orchestra in 1911, after which it became an international hit. He then added another orchestral movement and several interludes to form his half-hour ballet score.

The music is, like its composer, filled with childish innocence and charm, and on the podium Chung caught that aroma to a fare-thee-well. Similarly, the moods for the two virtuoso Daphnis and Chloe Suites for very large orchestra were well-judged and to the point throughout, by turns delicate, sensuous, or blazingly bravura. The finale of Daphnis No. 2 felt like running into a brick wall at full speed in an 18-wheeler.

Therein lay the one major problem of the program: It’s impossible to top, or even match, such sonic splendor. La Valse was well-played, yet it failed to make the sort of impression it usually does, standing as it did in the shadow of Daphnis No. 2.

As for the Radio France orchestra, it was fine indeed, highlighted by a superb woodwind section and uncommonly artistic percussionists. The timpanist was amazing in his sensibility to timbre, constantly switching sticks within a given composition to get a match for the section he was supporting at the moment. The brass were acceptable, if a tad messy in articulation; the strings quite able though a little lacking in depth of resonance, especially from the violins.

Still and all, it amounted to a most successful event that brought the audience to its feet more than once. After so arduous an evening for the musicians, no encore was played.

Heuwell Tircuit is a composer, performer, and writer who was chief writer for Gramophone Japan and for 21 years a music reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote previously for Chicago American and the Asahi Evening News.

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