Michael Tanner

Slanging match: rein GOLD, by Elfriede Jelinek, reviewed

I’ve tried hard to think of someone I dislike enough to recommend this novel* to, but have failed. Elfriede Jelinek is Austria’s leading contemporary literary figure, and to open rein GOLD at random is to get the impression that she is the successor to Thomas Bernhard — page after page without a single paragraph indentation,

The grotesque unevenness of Mozart’s Requiem

It is amazing what fine performances you can get beamed to your computer these days. Slightly less amazing is the packaging these events come in, when they do. ENO relayed free a concert of Mozart’s Requiem, but it was preceded by a snatch of Strictly, with a row of muscular young guys ripping off their

The best recordings of the greatest symphony

I am daunted. Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony is a work that I regard with love, awe and even anxiety. I always wonder whether I’ll be able to cope with such large and deep demands on me and, if I hear a performance or recording that doesn’t disappoint me, be able to articulate why I find it

Shock tactics | 30 May 2019

Igor Levit has rapidly achieved cult status, as he certainly deserves. He has already reached the stage where he can programme enormous and pretty obscure works, such as Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia. Clearly, Levit’s taste runs to large-scale works, but his recently released disc, Life, shows his command of shorter pieces too. His first concert in

A moral hypochondriac

Surely God, if He existed, would find a major source of entertainment down the ages in the activities of theologians, reaching their climax perhaps in the 19th century, when they involved Him with German idealism, and then the descent from that to the present day, when the sheer naivete of anyone who thinks that God

Sister act | 17 April 2019

Total immersion weekends can prove tricky. The established masters don’t need them, while lesser-known figures often turn out to be relatively obscure for sound reasons. Nonetheless, there are plenty of composers whose works are too rarely performed, not so much through neglect as because of the awkwardness of their demands — huge orchestras and choruses,

Sinking the unsinkable

Garrick Ohlsson is one of the finest pianists of his generation. Why, then, was the Wigmore Hall not much more than half full for his recital last week? Brahms. Ohlsson is at present touring with four programmes, all Brahms’s solo piano music. He treated us mainly to solid chunks, though he ended with the enchanting

Licensed to trill

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of approach to performing Schubert’s Winterreise, though sometimes there’s doubt or dispute about which one a given performer has taken. According to Jonas Kaufmann, Hans Hotter, for me the greatest of all performers of the cycle, as of so much else, insisted that the performer should be a narrator,

Janacek’s rare gem

Janacek’s upsetting opera Katya Kabanova, which hasn’t been seen in the UK for some time, turned up in two different productions over the weekend, with a third to follow in Scotland. The Opera North production by Tim Albery dates from 2007, when it was conducted by Richard Farnes with the clarity and passion which characterises

A true labour of love

This is a fascinating example of a small genre, in which the author decides at an early stage in his adult life that he would like to devote himself to a great figure whom he idolises, but who needs help of one kind or another to continue with his work, or at least for what

The write stuff | 20 September 2018

No one any longer denies the immense significance of Wagner’s musical-dramatic achievement, even if they find it repellent. But his reputation as a writer — of operatic texts, autobiographical and biographical memoirs, practical essays on how to conduct particular pieces, vast and less vast theoretical works, ranging from speculations on opera and climate to theologico-political

Too much information | 12 July 2018

When Kasper Holten’s production of Don Giovanni was first staged at the Royal Opera in 2014, I disliked it intensely, even more than I have disliked most of his other productions, or for that matter most productions of Don Giovanni. I missed the first revival, but when I saw it this time round my reactions

A labour of loathing

The titans of the podium, a late 19th- and 20th-century phenomenon, a species now extinct, have on the whole been well served by their biographers, with Peter Heyworth’s Otto Klemperer: His Life and Times as the ideal. Wilhelm Furtwängler, by far the greatest of them all in my and many other people’s opinion, has not

Slippery slope

Longborough Festival Opera, refuge for British Wagnerians fleeing unidiomatic musical performances and idiotically irrelevant and insulting productions, has rounded off its Wagner canon with its first Der fliegende Holländer. Next year a new production of the Ring begins, so presumably the small stage is considered inappropriate for the three Wagner dramas with indispensably large choruses.

Trivial pursuits | 7 June 2018

‘Is there an end [to this opera] that is not trivial?’ asks the Countess in her final bars of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio. Given the previous two and a half hours, the answer would seem to be a decided no. It is a frothy confection even by the standards of his later operas, the