Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Moonstruck Musical Notes

Moon watching, weather watching. It was both a couple of weeks ago as we hoped a Saturday evening would be weather-friendly enough to allow us to drive to Sackville.

The Music Department at Mount Allison University was promising another musical treat – a one hundredth anniversary performance of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  It was performed by soprano and faculty member Helen Pridmore and quintet of Maritime musicians, playing eight instrument, all known for their love of and expertise in contemporary music.

This concert work, set to poems by Albert Giraud, remains as intriguing, iconoclastic and unorthodox as it did in 1912. The vocal line is ‘Sprechstimme’ a technique somewhere between singing and speaking, often closer to speech. It was favoured by Expressionist performers, though used by earlier composers.

In the role of Pierrot Helen Pridmore’s resinous, compelling voice brought out fully the atmosphere created by Schoenberg. A blend of pathos, decadence, melodrama, echoes of basement night clubs, violence and twisted humour, all through the character of the sad, soulfully sensitive clown.

Musically the performance was excellent. I was however, distracted by the visuals; apparently added to “update’ the work. Quite unnecessary. This is absolute music that satisfies inherently, even if you do not know what the text means. The use of moving images – a car driving thorough a tunnel, then the drive in reverse, a Zeppelin in flames, a house in a field. Each of the three parts has a different mood; Pierrot muses on love, sex and religion in the first; the second is full of violence and nightmare. The final part is a subdued Peirrot going home. That the same images were used throughout did not reflect the individual focus of each. Particularly when I could think of so many possible moon-filled pictures.  Reflected in water, an urban moon, over fields, shining in a starry sky. Or simply performing on an unadorned stage. The intense music is enough.

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