LSO/ Boulez - Barbican, 11 May 2008
Though the Royal Opera House may now be charging £19 just for a standing place, it's still possible, amazingly, to experience world-class opera in London for under £6 - and that includes a seat. That was the starting ticket price for this LSO concert, the second of two guest-conducted by the legendary Pierre Boulez.
The centrepiece of the evening was a superbly balanced and exquisitely nuanced reading of Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle - a concert version of course, but losing little from the format. Dispensing with the optional prologue and narrator gave it an immediate impact, and Boulez maintained perfect dramatic pacing throughout.
Michelle De Young, nearly a foot taller than Boulez in her heels, looked a little bizarre at his side, but her Judith had great human warmth and clarity, with an absolute mastery of line.
Peter Fried is not a familiar name to me, but he has apparently made a specialty of the role of Bluebeard. He doesn't have the biggest voice, and it disappeared under the orchestra now and again, but the world-weary tone was spot on. And it was a pleasure to hear Bartók sung in undeniably faultless native Hungarian for once.
Peter Fried was also the barely-heard but effective soloist in Schoenberg's Die glückliche Hand, the 20 minute mini-opera which opened the evening. The multilayered orchestral parts emerged with perfect clarity, even the crude circus-like offstage band, though the contributions of the BBC Singers weren't perfectly coordinated.
In between the Bartók and Schoenberg was sandwiched the UK premiere of Osiris, by German composer Matthias Pintscher, fitting so seamlessly into its surroundings that it could have been designed round them, a chink of daylight between their nightmare extremes.
Following a formal process of dispersal and reconstruction, Pintscher explores novel sonorities in glittering fragments. The boosted percussion section looked particularly taxed (and what was that vertically-bowed instrument?), but muted trumpet and bass clarinet got their rare moment in the spotlight too. The LSO executed the complicated writing with laser accuracy, and Boulez brought a sparkling clarity to the dense layers. Unlike many contemporary works, which look limp placed side by side with time-tested classics, this truly seemed to hold its own.
Sadly I won't be around when the LPO perform Pintscher's Towards Osiris on 25 May but I'd suggest it's worth checking out.