Stravinsky's "Les Noces" Bath Festival Bath Abbey 1st June, 2011
Bath Camerata/Ensemble Bash/Masson
Rian Evans: Guardian
Stravinsky's glittering score Les Noces should surely be known by its Russian title, Svadebka. The diminutive form of the word for wedding itself shows the affection the work held for its composer and the impresario Diaghilev, for whose Ballets Russes it was conceived; but, more than that, it portrays scenes so intrinsically Russian that the French title is almost a misnomer.
Setting this Bath MusicFest performance in the abbey was a theatrical coup: its acoustic heightened everything about the unusual lineup of instruments and voices (four pianos, percussion ensemble, four solo singers and chorus). The brilliantly vibrant music embraces primitive ritualistic elements as well as religious ceremonial. The sense of a riot of colour – folk-like melodic strands, snatched bits of chatter and the earthy, chanted choral lines – was recreated to striking effect.
Anna Gorbachyova's bright soprano rang out best. Tenor Sam Furness and baritone John Herford were strongly spirited, though Irina Gheorghiu's mezzo got a bit submerged. Conductor Diego Masson ensured Stravinsky's layering of rhythmic and metrical lines could emerge, while the percussion's brittle edges, along with the stark piano-playing (MusicFest artistic director Joanna MacGregor one of the four) conveyed some of the jangling cimbalom sound Stravinsky originally envisaged. It was exhilarating.
Prefacing Les Noces with a performance by the Arte Corale of Moscow of a sequence of pieces traditionally sung in the nuptial mass of the Orthodox church was also clever, offering an aural canvas on which the Stravinsky would be overlaid. Tamara Pilipchuk's directing of six male singers made this a slightly quirky affair, but the power of the fine bass soloist resonating through the abbey against the close harmony of his colleagues could not but impress.
Rian Evans, Guardian