Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Review: Vesselina Kasarova & Hansjörg Albrecht at Muziekgebouw (25 Nov 2014)

This review of Frau Kasarova's November 25th concert at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam is courtesy of Mr John Carnegie. Thanks, John!




A couple of weeks previously, VK had made unscheduled appearances in Amsterdam substituting for Elina Garanca at the Concertgebouw. Now she was appearing in the city in her own right at the Concert Hall of the 21st Century at the Muziekgebouw in recital with Hansjörg Albrecht at the piano.

I had not been in Amsterdam for nearly three decades. So I decided to take the opportunity of combining the invitation to run theatre workshops there with the chance to catch VK in concert. I had often experienced her performing live in operas but this was the first time I had ever encountered her in a recital with piano.

The Muziekgebouw is a modern wooden-slat-lined concert hall with moveable walls designed to vary the capacity of the audience and the size of the stage. Such is the popularity of VK in Amsterdam that the walls were out to their maximum width and there was a near-capacity audience.

A pre-concert recital with two young artists near the beginning of their careers (an admirable tradition over here) revealed that the hall’s acoustics favour the piano over the voice. Fortunately, when it came to the main concert, Herr Albrecht was such a sensitive collaborator than he managed to maintain a reasonable balance for much of the time without VK having to strain to be heard over him.

The programme was in two parts. The first half consisted of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. It did not start well. VK was visibly nervous and inadequately warmed-up. In the first song, Der Engel, her increasing evident vocal problem of an obtrusive in breath was worse than I had ever heard it and consonants were swallowed. Things considerably improved from Stehe still! Onwards but there were still problems – such as the occasional misjudging of pianissimo as inaudibility (and I was sitting in the front row so it would have been worse for those behind me). Still, although this Wagner set represented VK at the least effective I have ever heard her live, it was still overall a passable performance.

After the interval, an under whelming opening Villanelle from Berlioz’ Les nuits d’été seemed to presage a return to the vocal problems of the beginning of the recital. However, from the beginning of Sur les lagunes (the third song of the cycle), as if by magic everything suddenly clicked into gear and VK was firing on all cylinders to produce a consumate performance that continued through to the end. The sense of mounting satisfaction in the audience was self-evident. At the end, they exploded into a frenzy of applause and, from most, a standing ovation. (Mind you, a week of theatre and concerts in Amsterdam had accustomed me to the sad fact that the Dutch have caught the American disease of the automatic and indiscriminate standing ovation. However, here at least, it seemed genuine.)

(Video is not from this performance)

VK rewarded the audience with two electrifying Handel encores: Ombra mai fu and Verdi Prati – both delivered for the first time in this recital without a score in front of her. Such direct and consummate communication topped an evening that had an unpromising start but ended up as a triumph.

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