More Helmut Deutsch

6 Sep

Ever since I read Helmut Deutsch’s memoirs I’ve been meaning to post this “review” I wrote almost 10 years ago of a concert with Barbara Bonney (who doesn’t come off terribly well in Deutsch’s memoirs), Angelika Kirchschlager (who does), and Helmut Deutsch himself.

Here goes, finally:

An Evening of Duets, 5 November 2009, Konzerthaus, Mozart-Saal

I have just come home from a mythical concert. It was the kind of concert you hear about the way you might hear about unicorns but can never be sure exist. It was a concert that made me forget that parts of Pakistan are increasingly ruled by the Taliban, that Iran is building up nuclear capability, and that bonuses are back on Wall Street with no one having learned anything from the economic crisis we are not even yet out of. It was a concert that made the world seem whole and a cheerful place to be. And it truly was miraculous—it provided a mass healing of the TB patients who usually attend concerts in the Mozart-Saal in the cold months. I think I heard only six coughs the whole evening. I’m referring to the evening of duets done by Barbara Bonney, Angelika Kirchschlager, and Helmut Deutsch at the Konzerthaus.

Kirchschlager was completely her usual extravagant self, a kind of Dorabella to Bonney’s more Fiordiligi-like gravitas. Her singing as always was simply an extension of herself. More than any singer I have had the privilege to hear live Kirchschlager embodies what one of my singing teachers referred to as singing from the inside out. She is, quite simply, a force of nature.

Deutsch was even more than usual a frame for the singers. In fact he, together with the Steinway grand piano open, unusually, on the full stick, was quite literally the perfect frame this evening, enveloping the singers in the warm curve of the piano, supporting them with his exquisite playing and remaining unobtrusive yet present in the background for the bows.

Most touching was Bonney who recently, according to reliable sources, has had several very poor years vocally. The voice this evening was not quite what it was in her early career, and I like it better. It has lost some of the ping and for that gained a kind of gentleness which at times almost suggests a fragility as well as a maturity it did not have before. It has much more power to move me than it ever did. And in the second encore, by Gounod, when she started alone and sang with such fervency it was almost unbearably moving. This rather hardened concert-goer quite suddenly found tears streaming down her face.

At the end of the evening one realized again how unusual the concert had been. Not only had the coughs been soothed, but not a single person had clapped in the French group in spite of the fact that the group incorporated the work of several composers. And when the last tones of the second encore died away, there was at first a great hush and then a roar of approval. Then came perhaps the biggest miracle of all. This Viennese audience, who usually insists on four or five encores, understood that the program was complete and needed no additional songs. After bringing the performers back for a few more rapturously received bows, the members of the audience gathered up their things and flowed in perfect harmony from the concert hall.

 

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