2015年3月1日 星期日

Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle in Hong Kong (泰利曼與德累斯頓國家管弦樂團在香港)

Christian Thielemann is the name of a conductor I heard about but whose work I never actually listened to. I got the chance to see him in action last night at the Cultural Centre when he led Staatskapelle Dresden for a feast of tone poems (a kind of one movement "symphony" not following the sonata form), a genre first invented by Franz Liszt the general idea of which is to combine various musical motifs into related themes to evoke visual images or moods which first inspired or moved the composer to express them in music. According to the program notes, Thielemann had been associated with Deutsche Oper Berlin for 7 years, then the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for another 7 years before moving to the Staatskapelle Dresden and  has done Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner cycles and various works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

The first offering of the evening, which for some unexplained reasons, started at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 8 p.m., is Franz Liszt's 4th tone poem, Orpheus, first performed in 1854. It was inspired by the Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice, which Liszt conducted in Weimar and for which he wrote an introductory piece. Liszt says that he recalls an image of Orpheus in an Etruscan vase he once saw at the Louvre in which Orpheus was portrayed as a "poet-musician" with power to move the hearts of  beasts and men. Some believe that Liszt was inspired by the image of Orpheus as the initiator of law to civilize a new Europe in the 9-volume Orphée(1829), by the French philosopher Pierre-Simon Ballanche. In this piece, Orpheus's lyre is portrayed by two harps and is a rather contemplative piece, full of atmospheric effects.

The next piece is Siegfried--Tribschen-Idyll, another rather serene symphonic poem written by Richard Wagner to celebrate the birthday of his second wife, Liszt's daughter, Cosima, a piece which he arranged to be performed by a small chamber orchestra on the steps of Tribschen, Wagner's favorite villa in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he was then living in exile, on the morning of Christmas Day 1870. The piece was originally called "Tribschen-Idyll, with Fidi---Birdsong and Orange Sunrise". Fidi is the pet name of Siegfried, Wagner's newly born son. When Wagner premiered his opera in the Ring cycle in 1876, he incorporated the Siegfried motif in this piece to represent Brunhilde in the opera's final scene. In this piece, Wagner also adapted a German lullaby, "Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf (de)" for use in the oboe solo, a theme linked to Wagner's older daughter Eva. So, this is supposed to be a most intimate family piece, originally scored for 13 players only but in 1878, Wagner needed money and had to expand it into a piece for 35 players so as to make it more suitable for public performance. This is the version we heard. 

After the intermission, we had the longest work of the evening, Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Op. 40, a tone poem completed in 1898. It was another most autobiographical work because it contains more than thirty motifs from Strauss's earlier works. Originally, Strauss wanted it to be a work comparable to Beethoven's Eroica (in E flat major), hence its title. It got lots of horns to represent the country air. It's a sort of companion piece to another tone poem he was writing at the time, "Don Quixote". He says that the work is not about any particular hero, but the idea of "heroism" itself. But since he conducted the premiere itself instead of leaving the task to its dedicatee, some think that the "hero" theme might may well be associated with himself. Whatever the truth may be, the work is divided into 6 parts:
(1) "Der Held" (The Hero) where the hero theme is represented by the horns and cellos
(2)  "Des Helden Widersacher" (The Hero's Adversaries) where his adversaries are represented the woodwinds and tuba
(3) "Des Helden Gefährtin" (The Hero's Companion) which he admitted is his slightly perverse, coquesttish and ever changing wife Pauline de Ahna, represented by the first violin
(4) "Des Helden Walstatt" (The Hero at Battle) , the battle being suggested by off stage trumpets, drum rolls, timpani etc.
 (5) "Des Helden Friedenswerke" (The Hero's Works of Peace) in which after the battle, the hero reviews his life, represented by dozens of quotations from Strauss' own earlier works eg. Guntram (8 times), his symphonic poems Don Quixote (5 times), Don Juan (4 times), Death and Transfiguration (4 times), Macbeth (3 times), Also sprach Zarathustra (3 times) and Till Eulenspiegel , the lieder "Traum durch die Dämmerung", Op 29/1 and "Befreit", Op 39/1, once each.
(6) "Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung" (The Hero's Retirement from this World and Consummation) where there's an elegy featuring harp, bassoon, English horn, and strings and some pastoral scenes and then some further variation of the original motif in E flat major before concluding with a brass fanfare.

I don't know what others think. To me, Christian Thieleman's conducting style is rather too restrained, especially in the two pieces before the intermission. Perhaps that may have something to do with the nature of the materials he is dealing with: all rather personal and intimate. I'd much rather he gave slightly more emphasis to some motifs more than others instead of trying to be equally "fair" to all. That way, he risks the music being without mini-troughs and by the same token, without mini-peaks, without too much contrast and consequently flatter than it could otherwise have been : after all, he's dealing with romantic composers, not classical baroque composers. He hasn't got the decisive lines of a Carlos Kleiber nor the meticulous articulation of the texture of the instruments of each section of the orchestra of a Celibadache. But then, he may have chosen to be himself rather than someone else's double or imitation. He did however try to be more lively the second part of the concert and in his encore piece, "The Ride of the Valkyries" which is slightly more "fiery" than his previous pieces.