Culture Magazine

Concert Review: The Martyr Complex

By Superconductor @ppelkonen

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.

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Concert Review: The Age of Apocalypse

    Concert Review: Apocalypse

    Franz Welser-Möst conducts Bruckner's Eighth Symphony at Lincoln Center. Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Möst. Photo by Mark Alan Lee © 2011... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: Revelation Calling

    Concert Review: Revelation Calling

    Bruckner's Ninth Brings Cleveland Residency to a Mystic Close Anton Bruckner: Master of the Mystic Arts. He composed, too. The final installment of Bruckner... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: Broadway At Last

    Concert Review: Broadway Last

    Nielsen and Stravinsky mark RDO's Overdue Debut Royal Danish Orchestra's Music Director Michael Schønwandt. The art of programming symphony concerts is a... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: Ludwig Takes Over

    Concert Review: Ludwig Takes Over

    All-Beethoven program rocks Mostly Mozart Beethoven, walking to Lincoln Center. Well, not really. Mozart was entirely absent from Friday night's Mostly Mozart... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: The Emersons' Endgame

    Concert Review: Emersons' Endgame

    At Mostly Mozart: Final quartets from four composers. String theory: Philip Setzer, Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton and David Finckel. Ladies and gentlemen,... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: Youths Gone Wild

    Concert Review: Youths Gone Wild

    French pianist, conductor debut at Mostly Mozart. Debut artist: French pianist Bertrand Chamayou. Photo by Laura Vaconi for Naïve Classics One of the joys of... Read more

    By  Superconductor
  • Concert Review: Mahler, Without Bombast

    Concert Review: Mahler, Without Bombast

    Chamber arrangement of Das Lied von der Erde performed for work's centennial. The Burial of Gustav Mahler. Painting by Arnold Schoenberg. © 1911 The Arnold... Read more

    By  Superconductor