Above: Interior of Frauenkirche, Dresden
Arriving by coach from Leipzig we disembarked at the Kempinski Taschenberg Palais, the most perfect luxury hotel. Wandering around the ground floor is like inspecting a beautiful private gallery as you move from space to space all filled with elegant furniture, books, paintings, objets d’art. The rooms are furnished lavishly in royal blue colour schemes and are huge with massively high ceilings, all suited to the former princess who built it 150 years ago. It is a lovely city, not large, and the central area is laden with history all lovingly restored since its total destruction in 1945. The extraordinary Frauenkirche in the centre with its incredible spire is now completely restored, as are the Zwinger Palace and the Semper Oper. One of the last pieces of the puzzle is the new concert hall for the Dresden Philharmonic, now nearly complete.
Last night we saw Weber’s Der Freischutz, our last performance on this wonderful tour. A new production in the gorgeous Semper Oper, it takes a distopian view of this old fashioned woodland fairy tale, with hints of brutality and incipient fascism – a very interesting way of updating a charming period piece to make it more relevant for today.
After the Matthew Passion at Bach’s own church, the Thomaskirche just over a year ago, our performance on this visit to Leipzig of Bach cantatas in the same venue by a local municipal choir was sadly deficient. Much better was an all Brahms concert at the legendary Gewandhaus with the equally legendary Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by the venerable Christoph von Dohnanyi. Beautifully shaped performances of both the Violin Concerto (again Zimmermann was the excellent soloist) and the 2nd Symphony.
Nicole Car in Eugene Onegin
As usual Berlin is endlessly fascinating and our program has touched on all the great institutions, musical, operatic, visual arts and museums, not to speak of the delight in moving around this great city, without doubt the cultural capital of Europe these days. Highlights:
- Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust at the Schiller Theater for the Staatsoper Berlin.
- A balletic extravaganza of this wonderful oratorio/ opera Eugen Onegin at the Deutsche Oper starring Australian Nicole Car making her European debut as Tatiana. She was due to meet with our group at our hotel, but in her excitement about her debut, forgot and talked to us at the theatre after the performance.
- Mariss Jansons conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a superb concert featuring Bartok’s Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta, followed by Franz Peter Zimmermann playing Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 2
- Visit to Daniel Libeskind’s amazing Jewish Museum
Nicole Car with our group after the performance
Before the tour started Linda Ashford, Sally and I attended a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic visiting Vienna under Simon Rattle playing Bruckner’s 7th Symphony. Our agent Claudia had found us seats in the very back row high up at the back of the hall, miles away from the stage of this famous long narrow hall, the Musikverein. But it turned out to be one of the most overwhelming performances I can remember. The clarity and richness of the sound was extraordinary, as it the orchestra surrounded us. The performance was musically magnificent too.
The tour program starting two days later didn’t falter with highlights like:
- a production at the Vienna State Opera of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale starring the fabulous Juan Diego Florez
- St Petersburg Philharmonic playing Brahms and Beethoven at the Musikverein conducted by Temirkanov very efficiently like a Russian general. I found it very anti-musical
- A glorious performance of Mahler’s Song of the Earth with Klaus Florian Vogt and Matthias Goerne and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Konzerthaus, another beautiful 19th century concert hall
- A morning song recital in the intimate Schubert Saal of the Konzerthaus by tenor Julian Pregardien. An die ferne Geliebte by Beethoven and a bracket of Weber songs stood out in a delightful program