Iolanta, Messiah, and an American in Japan

About one and a half year ago I attended three quite different concerts in rapid succession at two different continents. Even though the concerts were of varying quality, I made some interesting observations which I’d like to share. The first performance I’d like to mention was not really a concert but the opera Iolanta by Tchaikovsky, which was played by the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Vedernikov. Musically it was a pleasant surprise, especially some of the dramatic orchestra playing. I’ve understood the opera is often performed in the composer’s home country, but not often elsewhere. That’s not really a surprise, since the opera is rather short and the story quite corny.

Shortly after this I attended a concert performance of Händel’s Messiah. It was performed by the Norwegian Opera Orchestra and Choir, under the baton of Rinaldo Alessandrini. The latter has made a bunch of revitalizing recordings of Vivaldi on period instruments for the Naïve label, which I urge you to check out. Back to Messiah, it was a gripping performance–especially the finale with its fugue and percussions made a great impact. I have since attended another performance of the oratorio in a cold stone cathedral; the acoustics were great, but this time the finale didn’t make as much of an impact. The outstanding factor this evening was the russian mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova, whose voice only can be described as addictively soothing.

During a trip to Japan near the end of 2010 I attended a concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. It is actually named after a Japanese brewery and opened in 1986 to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary of whisky and 20th anniversary of beer production. Its acoustics was designed by guidance from Karajan himself, and the sound of the hall was as lush as one could expect. The exteriors of the building were not impressive, but the interiors were nice with pictures in the hallways of soloists from their on-site performance. The man in charge this evening was Sylvian Cambreling, who led the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. They played an interesting programme, with the most substantial works being Schumann’s 4th symphony and Korngold’s violin concerto. The latter was written after the composer emigrated to America to escape jewish persecution, and is based on themes from scores he wrote in Hollywood. The sound of the orchestra could have been grander and I especially missed more power in the symphony, but the solo part of the concerto was brilliantly played by Viviane Hagner.

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