Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller


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'Es war einmal ein Kind', asserts the hero -- or antihero (he was once expelled from Weimar by Goethe for his dissolute waywardness) -- early on in the opera : and who can be surprised that, true Romantic, he remains one? The more the buffeted Lenz loses his direction and reason (though he gains a compensatory insight -- for his madness, like Blake's or Hölderlin's, is seen as a child's stuttering glimpses of the Grandeur of God) -- the more he leans on his hapless friends : the nobly sung, reassuring, pipe-smoking fellow-baritone of Gregory Reinhart (as an impressive Pastor Oberlin), and the attractive interjections of Ian Caley's equally clear Kaufmann (amazing how much light the introduction of the tenor voice brings to the opera's timbres). One after another, they prop him up against his Job-like prophecies of disaster. When Kösters's Lenz squats in a tub (a Beckett or Ionesco-style version of staging his throwing himself into the river, foreshadowing Schumann) one longs for the cool air and water to begin to calm him. But this Lenz has the energy of a yo-yo. He is soon back on the rant.

Ian Caley as Lenz's friend Kaufmann in the Theatre de Caen 2002 production of Jakob Lenz. Photo: Joel Weddle

The composer elicits some glorious sounds from an eleven-strong chamber orchestra : no violins or violas, but three cellos; each of the woodwind -- bassoon, clarinet, oboe (no flutes) -- doubles up (furnishing contra bassoon, bass clarinet, cor anglais), and Olivier Dejours's sympathetic and perceptive conducting throughout ensured the score, with all its lurid multi-colourings, was heard to particular advantage. The sudden arrival of strings and brass following the children's initial song (the Caen boys are amplified by half a dozen young singers from the Opéra de Nancy and from the classes Maîtrise et Danse of the collège Pasteur -- école Jean Guehenno) is bewitching. Subsequently Rihm interposes some distinctly nervy music -- a sort of quartertonal chromatic whining -- with a striking use of harpsichord in the textures (sometimes submerged within eerie, dark woodwind), and like Berg gives to traditional forms a new edge. An array of percussion and brass unleashes a snowstorm, eerie strings suggest the passage of time; as the tenor, Kaufmann, introduces a kind of lurching Ländler ushered in by the three cellists. A sad ostinato supports Lenz's appeal for solitude (Einsamkeit), and a rocking clarinet, mimicked by the cellos, Kaufmann's interjections; as Lenz embarks on his extended monologue, the cellos sound almost like viols, playing a kind of Lutheran chorale (this is the 'something I wrote long ago') : indeed more than once, Rihm seems to take early chorale-like material and fragment it, a sort of systematic deconstruction much like Maxwell Davies handling a sixteenth century Fantaisie. His Wozzeck voices return, like both echoes of distant childhood and harbingers of death to come -- both continuity and finality.

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Copyright © 10 March 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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