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Jessica Duchen
Monday 20th July 2009
The Ring Master, plus The Creation

I have a piece in today's Independent about Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky production of the Ring Cycle that's coming to Covent Garden next week. It's not often we have a chance to hear the whole Ring in 4 consecutive days - maybe it's only Big G who'd attempt that - and I bet it'll be a knockout...

Meanwhile I'm still on cloud 99 from the Haydn Creation from the Proms the other night - heard it on the radio. I have a piece about the work in Standpoint's July-August issue, which you can read here...

This is the only piece of music that can transform me from grumbling, cynical, humanist-atheist into a spiritually spaced-out joy junkie. And this was one of the loveliest accounts of it I've ever heard. It had all the freshness and vigour and sense of wonder that one could wish for, fabulous tempi, and an astonishingly large-scale approach with triple wind just as Haydn envisaged. Paul McCreesh's new translation was generally A Very Good Thing, the soloists were ideal for their roles and every moment seemed to be relished - the boiling seas, the magnificent sunrise, the bounding animals (the worm got a good laugh, too) and the abruptly appearing universe with that delicious throwaway line "He made the stars also." There were 200 performers or more and it raised the roof.

Amusingly, in one of the brief breaks (there were no intervals) R3 broadcast part of a discussion in which one rather sour-sounding academic remarked that the thing cost a fortune on this scale and how nice it can be alternatively to hear music performed on a small scale with a chamber orchestra where the textures are transparent, etc etc. There wasn't time for anyone to argue that the Gabrieli Consort (presumably with plenty of freelance friends drafted in to make up the numbers) were playing on the whole so well that the textures were transparent. Instead, they had to cut him short and get back to the live broadcast PDQ.

That remark served to confirm what I've always suspected: the coincidence of the rise of small-scale "authentic" performace with Thatcher's financial cutbacks was no coincidence - it was really a way of giving supposed musical legitimacy to the financially inevitable. This Creation was authentically massive! Next, please, can we have Handel's Messiah with a thousand performers - just like the performance in Westminster Abbey that inspired Haydn to write The Creation?

But more likely, after the next election we'll be hearing the Beethoven symphonies played by piano duet...


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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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