Culture Magazine

Concert Review: The Martyr Complex

By Superconductor

Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher at Carnegie Hall.

Concert Review: The Martyr Complex

Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake
by Hermann Stilke.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday night at Carnegie Hall featured a  New York appearance from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performing Arthur Honegger's equally rare Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher, a 1935 dramatic oratorio depicting the martyrization of Joan of Arc. Marin Alsop conducted.
This  unconventional oratorio requires vast resources, superbly commanded here by Ms. Alsop. Honegger wrote for a giant orchestra, a three-part chorus, and the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument whose eerie, swooping sound represents both the barking of dogs around Joan's stake and the onslaught of divine intervention.
Honegger is chiefly remembered today for his membership in Les Six, the handful of France-based composers who modernized music in the first half of the 20th century. His work is tonal, rising from the minor-key darkness of the prologue (added when the work was revised in 1946.
The music veers into a satiric, jazz-inflected voice in the description of Joan's trial (her prosecutor is a pig, the judge depicted as a sheep) and the "game of cards" where Kings and Queens shuffle and cut for the right to kill the innocent Joan. Ms. Alsop kept taut control over the tricky rhythms and the shifts in mood, with characterful contributions from the large cast of singers and actors.
 The work achieves an ecstatic height in its last sections, starting with the passage where Brother Dominic (Ronald Guttman) grills Joan about the discovery of her sword. At this point, the music shifts heavenward, with overwhelming, rising passages that depict the religious fervor of Joan and influence of a higher power on her short life. 
Right before the burning, a medieval folk-dance, Tirazo is added to the orchestral fabric. Like the Turkish march in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the dance drives the work to a higher energy level, for the difficult, emotionally wrenching depiction of the burning itself. This final sequence rises to an extraordinary height, with the orchestra thundering, the chorus providing support and the soprano voice of the Virgin welcoming Joan to Heaven. 
Jeanne d'Arc requires a large cast. Soprano Tamara Wilson was potent as the voice of the Virgin Mary, although she fought to get over the huge orchestra in the last pages. Tenor Timothy Fallon was squally and bleating, appropriate to the part of the porcine prosecutor. Bass Morris Robinson made a strong impression in his short passages. 
The part of Joan is spoken. Actress Caroline Dhavernas was a powerful, dramatic force. Her hair bound up and her dress plain (historically accurate, as Joan was tried wearing men's clothing), Ms. Dhavernas became a simple figure of faith standing up for injustice. The contemporary, political resonance of this image only added to the overwhelming strength of this performance. Concert Review: The Martyr ComplexConcert Review: The Martyr Complex

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Concert Review: Don't Let Them Be Misunderstood

    The Cleveland Orchestra returns to Lincoln Center. by Paul J. Pelkonen Franz Welser-Möst leads the Cleveland Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall. Photo by Stephanie... Read more

    The 05 November 2013 by   Superconductor
  • PHOTOS from the Concert in Frankfurt, by Martine

    Friends reported it was a wonderful concert with five encores. I believe so! Martine took this pictures (hope you don't mind I posted them. And please share wit... Read more

    The 17 October 2013 by   Irinastanescu
  • Program for the Concert at Chateau De Versailles, Nov 12

    Angela Gheorghiu Atalla Ayan, tenor Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra Tiberiu Soare, conductor Giuseppe Verdi - Oberto, Ouverture Georg Friedrich... Read more

    The 21 October 2013 by   Irinastanescu
  • Concert Review: The Sweltering Sky

    The New York Philharmonic plays Central Park. by Paul J. Pelkonen Fireworks over Central Park. From The annual New York Philharmonic... Read more

    The 16 July 2013 by   Superconductor
  • Program for the Concert in Amsterdam, 24.09

    According to the website of Concertgebouw, this is the concert program for September 24 Mozart - Ouverture (uit 'Le nozze di Figaro', KV 492) Händel - Aria... Read more

    The 07 August 2013 by   Irinastanescu
  • Concert Review: As the Puppets Dance

    The New York Philharmonic presents A Dancer's Dream. by Paul J. Pelkonen The puppets dance in Petrushka as Alan Gilbert conducts A Dancer's Dream.Photo by... Read more

    The 28 June 2013 by   Superconductor
  • Concert Review: The Shame of a Nation

    The American Symphony Orchestra presents Hungary Torn by Paul J. Pelkonen The damage done to Hungary by the right-wing "Arrow Cross" movement and the Nazis has... Read more

    The 03 May 2013 by   Superconductor

Add a comment