Weill: Die sieben Tods¸nden

performances certainly extended beyond typical concert length, not helped by a
ten-minute delay in beginning, and more to the point, the programme rather felt
as if there were one too many piece. How, then, fared what for many was
presumably the main attraction, Anne Sofie von Otter in The Seven Deadly Sins? Patchily, I am afraid. There were several problems, but most of all von Otter
herself, whose performance seemed quite misconceived. From the opening of the
Prologue, her reading lacked edge, seeming far too well-mannered. There is not
a single way to perform this repertoire, and not everyone is Lotte Lenya
– indeed, of course, no one else is – but, despite the microphone,
von Otter sounded either ill at ease or merely pleasant (as in the second of
the sins, ‘Stolz’). The performance seemed more an example of that
most dubious of enterprises, ‘classical crossover’, than social
critique. Oddly, on the occasional instances when she ditched her microphone,
vocal production sounded more idiomatic. As for the would-be cool foot-tapping
in ‘Zorn’, let us not dwell upon it. The gentlemen of Synergy
Vocals were on far better form, though I am not sure that the nature of the
amplification helped them. Theirs at least added an edge quite lacking
elsewhere, rendering the Family’s hypocritical bourgeois morality all the
more repellent. Perhaps surprisingly, Michael Tilson Thomas’s conducting
of the London Symphony Orchestra was also rather tame, at least for a good
two-thirds of the work. ‘Faulheit’ at least brought something of a
wind band sonority, but for much of the performance, the pleasantness of Anna
– whether I or II – had apparently proved contagious. In
‘Habsucht’ and ‘Neid’ there was at last some splendid
orchestral playing, the LSO properly given its head, the results redolent of
Mahagonny, even if Weill is here perhaps a little too obviously imitating his
former self. The encore, ‘Speak low’ was preferable in every
respect: everyone seemed more relaxed, and there was a far surer grasp of

At the beginning of the concert, Danse sacrÈe et profane had mysteriously
replaced the advertised Last Pieces, Debussy as orchestrated by Oliver Knussen.
LSO principal, Bryn Lewis, gave a good account of the harp part, though Tilson
Thomas alternated between the deliberate and the subdued, especially in the
first dance. The second showed its kinship to Ravel, but was perhaps overly
moulded by the conductor. Holloway’s 2002 orchestration of En blanc et
, by contrast, proved a revelation. The opening movement brings a
glittering edge, at first not especially Debussyan – though it does not
seem that Holloway is trying to be so – but perhaps more school of
scintillating Dukas. As time went on, flashes and more than flashes, of
Debussyan orchestral sonority manifest themselves: informing, but not
controlling. This is certainly no attempt at pastiche. The second movement is,
unsurprisingly, darker in hue, though not without metallic, militaristic
glitter. A poignant trumpet solo lingers in the memory. Likewise the vivid
realisation of the confrontation between Ein’ feste Burg and the
Marseillaise: almost Ivesian, but better orchestrated. In the final movement, I
fancied that I heard, albeit briefly, creepy shades of BartÛk, supplanted by
Ravel – and that is praise indeed for any orchestration.

La mer, which concluded the programme, opened promisingly, with a fine sense
of ‘emerging’, all sections of the LSO on excellent form. ‘De
l’aube ‡ midi sur la mer’ flowed well, apparently on the swift
side, but not to its detriment. However, by the time we reached the brass
fanfares – included, doubtless to the chagrin of some, though I have no
problem with them – doubts had begun to set in. So much was a little, and
sometimes more than a little, too brash, and I do not think it was just a
matter of the Barbican acoustic. Similarly, the glitter of ‘Jeux de
vagues’, at first stimulating, soon seemed a little de trop. La mer was
veering dangerously close to mere orchestral showpiece, as would be confirmed
by the final movement, in which the conductor had it approximate to a decent
film score. Direction was present, throughout, to be sure: there was no
meandering. And there were some ravishing woodwind solos. But Debussy is so
much more interesting, so much less straightforward, than he sounded here. Let
us hope that Tilson Thomas does not resolve to tackle PellÈas.

Mark Berry

image_description=Anne Sofie von Otter [Photo by Carl Bengtsson / DG]
product_title=Kurt Weill: Die sieben Tods¸nden; Claude Debussy: Danse sacrÈe et profane; En blanc et noir (orchestrated by Robin Holloway); La mer.
product_by=Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bryn Lewis (harp), Synergy Vocals (Paul Badley, Gerard O’Beirne (tenors), Michael Dore, Paul Charrier (basses)), London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, Thursday 2 February 2012.
product_id=Above: Anne Sofie von Otter [Photo by Carl Bengtsson / DG]