Thursday, April 13, 2006

Susan Bullock recital

The Dr. B. does London tour would not be complete without a trip to Wigmore Hall, London's premier recital venue, and for this I chose a recital with Susan Bullock, accompanied by Louis Lortie on the piano. I went for the programming alone, which included Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, one of my personal favorites. For Wagner they're terse and get right to the point.

Before the interval it was all Franz Liszt, including a song group in German, a piano piece called "Nuages gris" and a final group in French. Surprisingly, I cannot recall ever hearing anyone sing Liszt before.

Liszt cannot do without the big finish. In German or French he needs things going on after the poem is over, and produces a little summary for us. By the third time he does this we are bored with it. I don't know how far this goes to explain how seldom his songs are performed. The program provides translations, but it is curious that it is the poems that are translated and not the songs made from them. Liszt's summaries and omissions are not accounted for. This was easy to follow because of Ms Bullock's excellent diction.

Susan Bullock has the big voice and the big style of a true Wagnerian soprano, and brings this big style into her interpretations. Liszt was the original big stylist, and I felt this approach worked well for his music. "Oh quand je dors" is actually quite a nice song.

We in America do not associate the interval with ice cream as they do here. At Saturday Night Fever there is ice cream. At Wigmore Hall there is ice cream. Every possible venue and style of performance has small containers of ice cream with little spoons inside. Some places will even sell you ice cream at your seat.

The second half began with Liszt's transcription of the "Liebestod", for him a relatively sublimated piece. It is always clear when listening to any of Liszt's piano pieces that he had reach and technique to burn, and wasted it in flashiness. Lortie's flash is not quite up to Liszt's standards, though he did choose some not that flashy pieces.

Liszt was the inventor of the kind of unstructured development and complete dissolution of symphonic form that is the basis for Wagner's through composed operas, especially Tristan und Isolde. There is more than a family relationship between the two men. It is interesting to realize that Liszt's most significant contribution to the history of music lies not in the piano at all, but in the tone poem.

My recent immersion in Tristan was just the right preparation for this concert. Two of the Wesendonck Lieder were studies for Tristan. Susan Bullock has sung Isolde at the ENO and her interpretation of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder emphasized the connection between the two works. She sang the pieces as though they were an extension of the opera, in the big style of a Wagnerian soprano. The complete conviction she brought to her interpretation carried me with it. I felt that she successfully made me hear the pieces again, that she transformed them in a way that I could not have imagined.

Wigmore Hall isn't quite big enough to contain her encore rendition of "Dich teure Halle." Obviously this is her true calling.

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