Nathalie Stutzmann conducts Händel Messiah in Paris

My trouble with writing about Messiah is more that i don’t know the music by heart (from listening) so I simply can’t tell all the “ngõ ngách”** as we vietnamese say, so then it remains somewhat superficial and grossly over-generalized. But let’s make an attempt anyhow.
The overall impression: It was the best Händel Messiah I have ever heard*, with *everything* I ever ask for. She filled my complete needs :-).  What do I mean by phrasing? when someone speaks to you a sentence and immediately in head you have a vivid 3-D image evolving dynamically. This is the first time I fully understand the meaning of the text, not just as English text, but musical painting: How to read the notes and text and form ideas, and how to get that idea expressed with the available tools. Ms. Stutzmann has my absolute admiration. The orchestra was SUPERB. You can split them almost into 4 sections: high strings on left, low strings on right, organ+harpsichord (double mounted), and 2 oboes + 2 horns. Especially the low strings, they were having an absolute ball phrasing and emphasizing what felt like constant high wind gushes in a coming hurricane.

The Messiah has 3 parts and the first is obviously full of very beautiful tunes that everyone knows. This is the first time that at the end of each part i was thinking aloud: “WHAT?? it’s over???” The 2nd and 3rd parts put significantly more emphasis on the chorus, and they’re absolutely superb. A well deserved applause from all soloists. Sorry for the short description here as i don’t know the parts of the chorus well enough..


view from Corbeille K10

Back to the soloists for a moment. I wonder how much Nathalie Stutzmann’s ideas cross with the singers, but I’m assuming they all arrived with their own ideas and married them with hers? We are going to start with Sara Mingardo ;-). I wanted to hear her live singing Händel in intimate setting with a small baroque orchestra. What more could I ask for? I would like a copy of this particular session at Theatre des Champs Elysees (TCE) for my personal collection please. Could we please please please see more of the collaboration between Nathalie and Sara? Their mutual admiration and especially Ms. Mingardo’s admiration for Ms. Stutzmann were such a pleasure to watch up close. On her musical phrasing: The good news is I know the alto’s parts *very* well for this piece and thus can provide the most comments. What a huge contrast to the performance with Sir Colin Davis in term of size of orchestra, venue, and orchestra interpretation. Here she was absolutely in her elements with the right dynamical supports and sound balance with orchestra and thus had her full luxury varying intensity with a few pianissimos, wooooahhhh, tingling spine.

Nathalie Stutzmann, Sara Mingardo, Susan Gritton, Orfeo 55

I have always in head the feeling her vocal instrument is that of a baroque viola in term of dynamic range + expressiveness, ANNNNDD, yesterday i heard partially a reason why! Please read more at the bottom of post! Back to phrasing, she embellishes vocal lines in very subtle ways that makes you turn your head with open eyes and ears. Remember my never-ending comment on VK’s phrasings of Romeo in Munich? that’s how she’s doing it in Messiah, very very subtle, and unless you know the music well, I wonder if you can really appreciate as full as my cough cough obsessive ears did. And who in the world would pause 1/2 way through a coloratura line, let orchestra rushed in with emphasis, another pause, put a small expression on top of coloratura, then finished off the phrase? We all know the first famous alto aria “But who may abide the day of his coming”, remember the middle and end section with the pulsating rush? She and Ms Stutzmann’s orchestra took turn emphasizing/de-emphasizing the notes building up tension, WOOOOOOW. This was what I missed on friday in Metz sitting much further back in a hall i don’t quite like and thus missing their particular interaction. Simply breathtakingly amazing. I can write another 3000-word post just on her phrasing, but let’s move on..
At close space in optimal setting at TCE, Susan Gritton’s voice is much much more appreciated. You can hear all her phrasing well, significantly more expressive than the first round. The interaction during “he shall feed his flock like a shepherd” was quite different though to the version with Karina Gauvin that I heard live here in Symphony Hall, in that their voices are different enough that somehow Ms. Gauvin’s floated well above the bed of violins but Ms. Gritton’s was part of orchestra. Thus it gives a different dynamic and didn’t quite strike me as something to notice (but I did because of previous experience).
Apology to the tenor and bass, but I have not much comments 😀 . My only impression was the same as on last friday, that the tenor’s entry, or more like during the entire performance, somehow further reminded me of the contrast with Nicholas Phan, and that the latter can paint words/musical phrase that worked much better for my brain.

So, that’s about it, a post in rambling fashion, full of admiration for Ms. Stutzmann’s musical phrasings, her brilliance in getting her orchestra to transfer her ideas to audial reality, her amazing musicianship, her fantastic collaboration with her soloists and absolute care for them. And on second order my full admiration for Ms. Mingardo’s musicianship, and I can only hope that they would collaborate more because I’m keeping my plans open for them!
On that related note, I have now an open invitation to visit Paris any time with an offer for a couch! with a professional violinist! She woke up very early to take me to the boulangerie on my last morning. We then had a real French breakfast with organic nutella while discussing violin bows! I would need to stay longer next time to have more conversation, but in essence she described the weight distribution on modern, classic, baroque bows and how you can express music (dynamic, emphasis) differently. For demonstration she gave a humming tune of what you can do with a single phrase, and in my limited ability to understand the difference, I can only say her 2nd phrase associated with classic/baroque(?) bow was the one I always look for at concerts and that it fits perfectly with how I heard Sara Mingardo. So there you have it.

** tiny windy streets that can only be explored on foot and that one can easily get lost in.
* though the sampling size remains much smaller than, for example, Bach Matthews Passion.