Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Carl Nielsen music, Danish singers shine in PPO concert

Denise Beck, soprano
Thomas Storm, baritone
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Carl Nielsen
     Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 Sinfonia Espansiva
     Overture to Maskarade
Phillip Faber
     Shattered Song (in Hommage to Carl Nielsen)
Carl Nielsen
     Seven Tidlige Sange (Arranged by Bo Holten for Singer and Orchestra)
          Æbleblomst Op. 10, No. 1
          I Seraillets Have Op. 4, No. 2
          Silkesko, Op. 6, No. 3            
          Det bødes der for Op. 6, No. 4
          Genrebillede Op. 6, No. 1
          Irmelin Rose Op. 4, No. 4
          Vise af "Mogens" Op. 6. No. 5
     Min søde Balsambøsse from Maskarade

Denmark may be thousands of kilometers away from the Philippines, but through the power of music, the two countries never felt much closer when the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Olivier Ochanine devoted an entire concert to the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

The concert, a part of The Carl Nielsen Project, a worldwide celebration of the composer’s 150th anniversary of his birth had the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with Ambassador Jan Top Christensen and the Embassy of Denmark pulling out all the stops by flying in a couple of guest artists from Denmark: soprano Denise Beck and Thomas Storm. Carl Nielsen’s music is rarely heard in Philippine shores and PPO principal conductor/music director Olivier Ochanine has made it his mission to introduce works of one of his favorite composers in this part of the world.

Opening with Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 Sinfonia Espansiva, the orchestra delivered an arresting start with the increasingly violent outbursts of the “A” note. The ever forward moving waltz that followed right after had the strings stumbling but they eventually redeemed themselves at the idyllic second movement. This was also when Denise and Thomas first appeared on stage singing a wordless “Ah” that had me imagining lying on the grass, staring at the bright sky, looking at the passing clouds, and then hearing those two voices as if coming from a distance carried by a gentle, cool breeze. The third movement felt like a tug of war between two opposing forces that I still have yet to grasp fully but finally watching a live performance has made me a step closer. The symphony wrapped up nicely with a fourth movement that had very rural vibe that resolved whatever conflict there was in the third.

Also featured in the concert was the Overture to Maskarade, a short, brisk piece which is a direct contrast to Phillip Faber’s Shattered Song (in Hommage to Carl Nielsen). The Faber piece, a world premiere performance, featured languid strings that was interrupted by the snare drum reminiscent of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Op 50.

The audience heard more of Denise and Thomas as the two sang a selection of songs by Nielsen: Æbleblomst Op. 10, No. 1, I Seraillets Have Op. 4, No. 2, Silkesko, Op. 6, No. 3, Det bødes der for Op. 6, No. 4, Genrebillede Op. 6, No. 1, Irmelin Rose Op. 4, No. 4, Vise af "Mogens" Op. 6. No. 5. Singing in Danish, I understood next to nothing about what the songs were all about. But I was savoring the strangeness of the Danish language, trying to pick out clues from the tonality and tempo of the music, and the two’s facial expressions as to what the songs were all about. Thankfully, the two gave a brief background on the flirty duet between the maid and a valet before ending with the quirky Min søde Balsambøsse from Maskarade. The audience gave the two a reception that is definitely a lot warmer than the cold winters they are accustomed to over in their homeland.

Having Denise and Thomas at the concert made it easier for me (and hopefully to others) to connect as the two gave a “face” and a “voice” to Carl Nielsen. I can imagine that the impact would’ve been a lot different had Olivier and the PPO performed just orchestral pieces by Nielsen. Lastly, a funny anecdote happened at the cocktails prior to the concert when a regular at the symphony wanted me to point out where Carl Nielsen was among the crowd at the lobby. I guess that she got too excited about the concert (or enjoyed the wine and Arla cheese too much) that she didn’t get the 150th birth anniversary part of the whole affair.

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