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17 April 2014
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Voznesenskaya - only too human
by Neil McGowan

La Voix Humaine (concert performance)
Vremena Goda Festival
Vremena Goda Orchestra/Bulakhov
29 September 2004

Bringing down the curtain on the Vremena Goda Festival this year was the Festival's first-ever operatic offering - Poulenc's "La Voix Humaine". 2004 has been something of a treat for Poulenc fans in Moscow, who have had little to celebrate hereto - but this year we've had both The Carmelites (in a searing Helikon Opera production) and now La Voix Humaine. The chances of getting Les Mamelles de Tiresias as a Christmas cracker are a little remote, however - by Christmas, two of Moscow's four main houses (Stanislavsky-Muzykal'ny and Helikon) will be in mothballs for long-overdue reconstruction work. The Bol'shoi struggles to stay open despite having the builders in the lobby, and only Novaya Opera enjoy the luxury of adequate new facilities. In a staggering waste of resources, the Vishnevskaya Opera Theatre is kept dark for all but 2-3 nights per month, when students of the Opera School perform at its prestige-address new premises.

We had better get used to concert performances, therefore - and this Voix Humaine throws down a gauntlet others will struggle to lift. A much-expanded Vremena Goda Orchestra took the stage. This is an ensemble that seems to do an awful lot of "public function" work - everything from accompanying child prodigies through Vivaldi to live music for the civic events of Moscow's embattled City Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. If they've been a little lowbrow up to now, those eyebrows were definitely raised in anticipation of the Poulenc performance.

Vladislav Bulakhov brought a sensitive hand to the score, and coaxed transparent textures from his augmented ensemble. In Bol'shoi Theatre artiste Elena Voznesenskaya he found the perfect soloist - now based in Paris for family reasons, Voznesenskaya's French is second nature to her. Sometimes rejoicing lyrically, at other times half-speaking the gut-wrenching disappointments of her character's solitary life, she found the whole emotional range needed for the piece. It was a great pity she was so physically hemmed-in by the surrounding violins and violas - when there was space to spare on the Conservatory's ample stage in the Great Hall? The balance might have been better - Poulenc's occasionally gluey orchestration threatened to muffle Voznesenskaya's nuances in places. The overall result, however, was excellently stylish and succeeded in being very moving. Probably if the audience had been given at least a synopsis of the story, it might have been even better received?

The remainder of the program was non-vocal. Alexander Brusilovsky performed a new violin concerto by French composer Yves Prince - who conducted his own work in person. Brusilovsky then took the baton himself, for a performance of Rodion Schedrin's heavy-handed arrangement of a "Suite from Bizet's Carmen" (for strings & percussion). This miserable piece of soviet-era bombast is really long overdue for retirement from the concert hall - it was a pity that an evening that began so diaphonously descended into such fustian histrionics for the Festival's close.

Neil McGowan 2004

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