Thursday, April 13, 2023
City Halls, Glasgow
Beethoven’s scenic Symphony led the way, Ryan Wigglesworth speeding the first movement, leaning to harried rather than joyful, phrasing slightly blurred, players pressured, an edge to their sound, as if arriving in the country hadn’t countered the stress of city life. (Exposition repeated.) The current was on the strong side, too, for ‘… by the Brook’, restless rather than restful. Wigglesworth’s bracing approach came more into its own with ‘Peasant’s Merrymaking’, a robust crew (excellent oboe curves and bassoon drollness) before the rains came and scattered the masses, timpani thunderous, piccolo lightning, and when the tempest was over the ‘Thanksgiving’ was shaped blissfully while locked into a spring in the step if with time for reflection.
This was a preface to a scene from Messiaen’s St Francis opera (first-performed in 1983, Paris, Ozawa conducting), in which he preaches to the birds, the latter a lifelong preoccupation for the composer, musically memorialised on numerous occasions, whereas Beethoven made do with cuckoo, nightingale and quail for guest appearances. Messiaen’s aviary bursts into song immediately, in complex orchestral layering, before St Francis (Ashley Riches, magnificent in the role written for José van Dam) begins a lengthy explanation – lyrical, contemplative – to one of his disciples (Nicky Spence) about feathered friends before addressing them directly, music that is sacred in tone, coloured ethereally by three ondes Martenot, with the birds rarely out of earshot. It was very well done in this Glasgow performance, quite compelling over (here) forty-three minutes, even if there are limitations in the musical language that send you back to previous Messiaen scores, yet the voices add gravitas, especially that of Francis himself, the vocal writing sympathetic. Not sure where the Radio 3 announcer got five hours from for the complete opera; four is nearer the mark, certainly Kent Nagano’s DG recording, three hours fifty-four.