Sir Simon Rattle
Aix-en-Provence is the place to be during the summer. And that’s not just due to the wonderful weather. The end of the world is nigh in Aix – as the lovely festival venue in the South of France is called in short – in a positive sense: impending glory, in form of a kind of a grand finale. Stéphane Braunschweig’s interpretation of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle is coming to close with the production of Götterdämmerung. Unfortunately, not everyone can travel to Aix. And that’s why those staying in Berlin can enjoy this piece of music before the actual premiere – however, only in extracts, with excerpts from the first and third act. A premiere by Siegfried Matthus, one of the great opera composers of our time, makes up for this. His sense of potent musical gestures is manifest in his newest orchestral work, developed in commission for the Berliner Philharmoniker: the Konzert für Fünf for wind quintet and orchestra.
Onward and Upward with the “Fivesome”
Siegfried Matthus’s Concerto for Five for wind quintet and orchestra
As complex and deftly concentrated as it appears, the music of Siegfried Matthus poses no insoluble puzzles to the listener: “My greatest concern is to use the technical acquisitions of today’s musical language to find understandable formulations again”, says the composer. His wish to be understood isn’t merely the desire for effectiveness: it is also the need for communication.
The “joy of writing something beautiful for the soloists” also involves the requirement of challenging them. Facilitating a display of exceptional instrumental exploits is one of Matthus’s most important creative impulses. Thus his new Concerto for Five, composed with the Berliner Philharmoniker wind soloists in mind, can be regarded as music of virtuosity. A further incentive for writing concertos lies in his pronounced penchant for the dramatic. Though undogmatically diverse, the body of Matthus’s instrumental compositions can also be seen in terms of dialogue and competition, of concertante and dramatic aspects. Soloists and orchestra can, in a sense, be understood as actors in an imaginary scene. In the opening of the Concerto for Five, the composer even goes so far as to cast the conductor in an unfamiliar role...
Matthus begins the Intrada energico with a timpani solo. A striking horn glissando – we’ll encounter it several more times in the course of the work – gives the starting signal for a canonically constructed chase, during which, in rapid succession, the “Five” come into frenzied play. The Ballata ritmico spins out a brief dialogue between the double-bass section and an electric bass, before the wind section enters as a cohesive unit and percussion, strings, harp and brass add their voices. The overriding principle is movement: driving onward and – in repeated spurts – upward, at times with a jazzy emphasis.
In the slow movement that follows, a Rhapsodia con espressione, three members of the fivesome swap their instruments for lower-lying relations: alto flute, bass clarinet and cor anglais (English horn). Above a firm trombone foundation, a great horn cantabile can now sing out, joined by fellow winds. Soon they find themselves alone with the harp. After dark grounding on strings, the movement dies away “morendo”.
The Scherzo leggiero brings the music back up to full speed: a revelling in velocity that calls for unabashed virtuosity. The ensuing cadenza section is organized by the solo actors – alternately in synch and diverging – and features prominent chains of trills. Before the finale Matthus brings in a “Ciacona with five little concertos”. After the underlying pace is fixed by bass and percussion, the solo trumpet presents a disarmingly lovely theme, which is soon reinforced; the trumpets then enter into conversation with the flute, which arranges its own little concerto. The principle now established, clarinet – introduced by solo viola – goes with the trombones, then oboe with the harp, bassoon with timpani and tuba, and the horn – ruminatively – with tutti strings and solo violin.
The Finale commences without the “Five”, who then, in rhythmic unison, recall the theme from the movement’s beginning; this leads with strings and brass to a provisional ending. A postlude repeats the garland of triplets from the opening. The penultimate word is given to the horn, which once again displays its ascending glissando, but the last word is given to the timpani: one must know, says Matthus, when it’s over.
“Our eternal knowledge is at an end…”
Excerpts from Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung
Over and again in the last part of Wagner’s Ring tetralogy, we encounter narrations, reports and recapitulations. There are quite practical reasons for this: a great deal has occurred since Alberich stole the Rhinegold and forged the ill-omened Ring. The audience must not lose the thread, and yet, in the Norns’ scene at the beginning of Götterdämmerung, they are confronted with the Fate-spinners’ literally severing the thread. They are still able to relate what has already happened, but not what is to come: “Our eternal knowledge is at an end!” The main object of their “solemn-faced gossip about the state of the world” (Thomas Mann) is here only reported (as it is again, in greater detail, in “Waltraute’s Narrative”): Wotan has withdrawn from the world, has had the withered world ash-tree felled and the logs from its trunk heaped into a towering pyre. At the end, it is Brünnhilde who sets it aflame and instigates the enormity of depicting the end of a world on the opera stage.
At the close of Brünnhilde’s final peroration, out of total devastation there emerges a final hymn, in which Wagner juxtaposes the Rhinemaidens’ song, Wotan’s Valhalla motif and the soaring melody sometimes referred to as “Redemption by Love” that was first heard in Die Walküre. What remains is Brünnhilde’s love. But also surviving are the Rhinemaidens – the creatures of Nature – and, almost surprisingly, humanity: “From the ruins of the collapsed castle, the men and women, overcome with emotion, witness the growing firelight in the sky,” reads Wagner’s stage direction. Also left is Alberich, and so the drama could conceivably start all over again. But Wagner avoids concluding the Ring in the same tonality in which it began: not in the flowing E flat major of the Rheingold prelude does he end his tetralogy, but on a seemingly infinite chord of D flat major.
Brünnhilde’s love survives the end of the world, because she has attained knowledge through suffering. In an earlier version of the text, the idea is elaborated: “My holiest hoard of knowledge / do I now allocate to the world. – / Not goods, not gold, nor godly splendour; / not house, not court / nor imperious grandeur; / not vague contracts / of deceptive alliance / not sham morals / of hard law: / blessed in desire and sorrow / will you be left – by love alone!” Wagner later found this “sententious” and decided to express the message solely through music. It is nonetheless interesting how explicitly the “hoard of knowledge” is mentioned here: Brünnhilde’s knowledge transcends, not only the dubious glories of all hoards, but even that of the Norns.
Waltraute, the Valkyrie’s sister, has rebuked Brünnhilde for her foolishness. Her visit to the rocky summit was the last attempt to stem the tide. This scene is of such extraordinary concentration that it makes its effect even removed from the theatrical context – a result of the deep sorrow that overlays this hopeless yet passionate confrontation as well as of Wagner’s art of motivic interweaving. In Götterdämmerung, the music speaks in “leitmotifs”, and the orchestra knows more than the characters on stage. When, at the end of their encounter, Brünnhilde sends away her sister with a message for the gods – “I shall never renounce love, and they shall never wrest love from me, / though Valhalla’s sublime splendour collapse in ruins!” – she sings this to a motif that Wagner introduced in Das Rheingold: “Only he who forswears love’s power”, divulges the Rhinemaiden Woglinde, “only he who forfeits love’s delight, / only he can attain the magic / to fashion the gold into a ring.” Not only is a dramaturgical connection established, but also a double meaning: things are more complex than the simple dichotomy “money or love” would have us believe.
And what does the orchestra tell us in the two great instrumental passages of Götterdämmerung? “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the “Funeral Music” function as transformation music and are related to one another as the hero’s exit and the hero’s dirge. They are also both dramatic recapitulations. Literally going along for the ride at the beginning of the Rhine Journey is Loge’s wall of fire as Siegfried passes by the realm of the Rhinemaidens en route to the harmonically clouded world of the Gibichungs. The nocturnal “Funeral Music” – coming after perplexed triplet motion on the violas and cellos as well as shattering blows from the whole orchestra – parades pivotal motifs again before the listener and displays Siegfried’s horn call amplified to “heroic” proportions. A moment of triumph and yet no more than a fleeting apotheosis. At the end of the end is the motif of redemption, but, as a German critic has observed, “just who is redeemed there, and from what, will probably never be unequivocally clear”.
Translation: Richard Evidon
The Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill studied in Glasgow, Toronto and London and was joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2002. She is in particular demand as a concert singer, in which capacity she has appeared with the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra and, more especially, the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Among the conductors with whom she has worked to date are Kurt Masur, Donald Runnicles, Sir Colin Davis and Marc Albrecht. At the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival she sang a selection of Mahler’s Wunderhorn Lieder with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Oliver Knussen. Her operatic roles include Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia for Scottish Opera and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly for English National Opera. This is Karen Cargill’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Katarina Dalayman was born in Stockholm and studied singing at the city’s Conservatory. She made her operatic debut as Amelia in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra with the Royal Opera in Stockholm but her present work focuses on Wagner: following her acclaimed debut as Brünnhilde in the Stockholm Ring, she has also been heard as Isolde at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Prior to that she had sung Brangäne in New York, Kundry in Paris and Sieglinde at Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and in Stockholm. Other important roles in her repertory include Marie in Wozzeck, which she has sung in Brussels, Paris and New York, and Strauss’s Ariadne, a role she has performed in Milan, Brussels, Dresden and Munich. Among the eminent conductors with whom Katarina Dalayman has worked are Riccardo Chailly, Sir Colin Davis, James Levine and Wolfgang Sawallisch. She was appointed Court Singer by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in December 2000. She made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the summer of 2008, when she appeared as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Siegfried at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.
The Wind Soloists of the Berliner Philharmoniker are made up of wind players from the front desks of the Berliner Philharmoniker. The group was formed some ten years ago and comprises Andreas Blau (flute), Albrecht Mayer (oboe), Wenzel Fuchs (clarinet), Stefan Schweigert (bassoon) and Radek Baborak (horn). All of them have considerable experience in the field of chamber music and have performed in various ensembles over a period of many years. The group has appeared to great acclaim both at home and abroad and has even been heard as far afield as Japan. Its repertory consists of original works from the Classical and Romantic periods, contemporary pieces and transcriptions of well-known works originally written for other forces.