Archive for November 18th, 2007

The Soldier’s Tale

We were really excited about The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky at the Tron in Glasgow, and were not disappointed.    

The Tale is a straightforward Russian folktale about a soldier who makes a pact with the devil and and who discovers that riches alone don’t bring the happiness that love brings.    You would think that once he discovered that, he and his Princess (this is a folktale) would live happily ever after, but Stravinsky does not let it lie there, and the piece ends darkly.

Written towards the end of the First World War, Stravinsky scored the work for a tiny orchestra of 7 players and four actors, who normally tell the tale.     But in this version, the Soldier was played by top violinist Anthony Marwood, assisted by two dancers:  Agnes Vandrepote as the Princess and Iain Woodhouse as the Devil, with Walter Van Dyk playing the Narrator.

It was in the way all the separate parts came together that made this a wonderful evening to remember.    The orchestra from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields were led by Jonathan Morton who also leads the Scottish Ensemble, and I realised at the end that hiding in the back was Alison Balsom, the award winning trumpet player – no wonder they were simply excellent.

The orchestration was unusual:   Violin, Double Bass, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, Bassoon and percussion.   the music was thrilling and ranged from folk dances to chorale – it was complicated but perfectly accessible, and really suited the subject.    In the wedding scene, there was a hymn tune – it was all there, but in shattered bits.    This was written in 1918 after all.

But Anthony Marwood’s performance was breathtaking:   not only was his violin playing stunningly good, particularly when he and his Princess have a long awakening dance, but his acting was mesmerising to watch.    He went from innocent delight to crumpled and broken in an instant.   He kissed his Princess towards the end, and was elated, but as his face came over her shoulder it turned to a haunted man as he realised the full implications of returning to his home.     The ending was dark – with all but the Princess following the devil out and across the back of the set.   This also included the barefooted orchestra who left one by one and formed a memorable closing tableau in red silhouette with their instruments.

We were in the front row and felt the wind from the dancers as they passed by, and also got covered in confetti.    We had two 16 year olds with us who were seriously impressed.    

This performance was so mesmerising that at successive curtain calls (there were deservedly three) the applause increased each time and we finally got cheering and whistling as we all realised that we had just witnessed something really special.   

I  recommended this production to Statler and Waldorf over at View From the Stalls, perhaps with a little trepidation as classical music is a little off their radar, but am delighted to report that they really enjoyed it.

Only an hour long, and completely haunting.    Still time to catch it on the short UK tour.   

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