Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A hugely impressive oratorio, and an acting tour de force

From June 24, 2015:

In the late 1930s Arthur Honegger collaborated with the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel on a sprawling oratorio about Jeanne d’Arc, part nation-building, part satirical expose of political hypocrisy, part religious mysticism. The role of Jeanne is a speaking rather than a singing role, but everything that takes place is focussed upon the character, and it provides a juicy opportunity and daunting challenge for a French actress.

Marion Cotillard delivers in spades. She provides everything one could wish for in the role. She conveys such a complex combination of innocence, pain, defiance, pride, terror, hope and love of God and country. Even when she’s not speaking her face subtly mirrors the events that swirl around her. I would have loved to have seen more of that face; a Cotillard-cam off to the side of the stage, perhaps. And she’s a virtuoso of crying; such an effective use of tears hasn’t been seen since Margaret O’Brien asked director Vincente Minelli during the filming of Meet Me In St. Louis if he wanted her tears to go all the way down her cheek, or just half-way.

There are other great performances on display in this really excellent Blu ray: all of the solo singers and actors create characters of depth and individuality, but Xavier Gallais stands out as Frere Dominique. The choral singing by both children and adults was likewise full of character, moving or hilarious as the story unfolds. Marc Soustrot and the Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra provide an excellent performance of Honegger’s witty, eloquent and complex score. Of special note is the large part Honegger wrote for the Ondes Martenot, which provides a quirky other-world sound throughout the piece. Everything comes together in this production, and as stunning as Cotillard is in the central role, her supporting cast is just as good.

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