Tuesday, July 27, 2004

From Seville to Warsaw in 22 hours

Musically, an intense little patch is going on, so here's an assessment of my weekend.

Saturday I gatecrashed the first night of Carmen at Glyndebourne. It's a revival of David McVicar's production from a couple of years ago, created for von Otter, but now rethought considerably for its new cast. The Guardian's review comments on its naturalism and mentions Zola, and I share Tim Ashley's opinion on a number of its aspects. Rinat Shaham deserves special mention, however, as her Carmen develops as the opera goes along, more than many. When she flounces out of the cigarette factory, plunges her head into a trough of water and then flings back her wet hair in an abrupt fountain to drench her colleagues, she's gorgeous, she's a sexpot and she bears no small resemblance to Carrie in Sex and the City. There's little sense at this point of her power or pride; these appears gradually, as if hewn into her as her self-defence against Don Jose's increasing violence. By the final scene she has grown into a full-blown Carmen - poised and centred, with stubborn integrity and independence, strong enough to stay outside the bullring to face her likely death. As Jose, Paul Charles Clarke is magnificent, both vocally and in characterisation - he seems to be the one stunning everyone, which is why I wanted to give 'Rinni', as they call her at G/b, more of this write-up. Paolo Carignani does some nice things with the score - it's a no-nonsense reading and the up-tempo of the prelude to the final act is wonderfully Spanish - but I did prefer Philippe Jordan last time, as his conducting had an extra edge of thrill about it. Tom & co seem to like this new guy, though.

On Sunday afternoon Rustem Haroudinoff gave his recital for the Chopin Society, which holds its salon concerts at the Sikorski Museum in Kensington, opposite Hyde Park. It's the most extraordinary place. You walk up the stairs towards the concert room only to find yourself faced with suits of armour on the walls; Rustem and the piano were surrounded by Polish military paintings, ancient Polish flags and glass cases full of medals. Had he been playing any of the Chopin Polonaises ('guns buried in roses' - Schumann) this might have been appropriate - as it was, there was a slight sense of political irony about this Russian blowing everyone sky high with his Rachmaninov B flat minor Sonata. I had a strange experience, listening to this piece. I closed my eyes and was somewhere else. I was listening intently to every note, but somehow when I looked out again at the end I didn't quite know where I was. I think this is called 'being transported' and it is rare and special.

A word too for the Chopin Society itself - a delightful bunch of pianistic eccentrics, who announced the incipient event with a speech full of apologies for one thing or another (come on, guys, this is 2004!) and provided the most fabulous spread of sanis, cakes and wine afterwards. They have an excellent programme of monthly recitals - you can hear Benjamin Grosvenor on 5 September (the BBC Young Musician of the Year piano finalist, who may be 12 by then), Artur Pizarro in October and many more. A deeply civilised way to spend a Sunday afternoon.