Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Antonio Pappano / Thomas Hampson / Klaus Florian Vogt - Cadogan Hall, 27 February 2011
It's not often the worker bees of the Royal Opera House orchestra are released from their Covent Garden nest. It's not often either that the Cadogan Hall, despite its fine acoustic, hosts much worth listening to. But after Andres Orozco-Estrada's splendid Tonkünstler Orchestra they managed to pull a second terrific evening out of the bag.
Despite the billing, Royal Opera House couldn't spare a whole orchestra, so we got a chamber version, and before that, a quartet. Mahler's earliest surviving work, the A minor Piano Quartet, is far from standard repertoire, which makes it all the more odd I've managed to hear it twice in one week. For the players of the Berlin Philharmonic and young pianist Bishara Harouni last Sunday it was a fresh and charming piece of juvenilia. The more experienced hands of Antonio Pappano (a rare stint at the piano) and his Royal Opera House principals stamped it with the dramatic flair of the mature composer; remarkably this simple little piece became identifiably Mahlerian.
After a Friday night outing at the Royal College of Music, it was second time this week for Wagner's Siegfried Idyll too. The caressing lullaby that begins and ends the work was beautifully brought to life by the incredibly detailed playing of the ROH orchestra's concertmaster Vasko Vassilev, his every note weighted and coloured. Pappano traced out a confident narrative line, demanding the musicians' absolute attention with the bold tempo changes and dramatic pauses that sculpted his phrases.
I was astonished at how indifferently it was received. Perhaps everyone was just keen to get to the interval bar. But they were much happier with Das Lied von der Erde - in fact the main reason my photos are so fuzzy is that the floor was shaking with the power of the applause.
In many ways I prefer this Schoenberg/Riehn chamber version to the original. It has an economy of means that matches the economy of expression in late Mahler. Pappano, thankfully, wasn't tempted to overload it with fussy details, instead choosing to establish a clear identity for each song. Beginning the evening with the Quartet wasn't just a practical solution for the size of the ensemble - it drew a connection with the clarity of this earliest works.
There was simplicity too in the way Klaus Florian Vogt applied his healthy, powerful sound to a straightforward interpretation of the tenor songs. Thomas Hampson's style was more nuanced. He brought an intelligent grip of the text and an expressive range of vocal colours to the demanding baritone part, lacking only firmness at the very bottom and fullness at the very top of his range. His Von der Schönheit suffered from an aggressively shouty edge, but serenity was restored in the final Abschied.