NOTTURNO – Orpheus after the Underworld at Lijm & Cultuur

The trouble with the Delft Chamber Music Festival is that there are too many high-points. The annual free concert in the Markt is always one and last night’s Dille & Camille offering was no exception.

The annual Festival performance at Lijm & Cultuur, a disused glue factory alongside the main Amsterdam to Rotterdam canal, could be described as the high-point of the high-points. The event is always dramatic, never just a concert. With such an incredible venue you are halfway there when you are searching for drama.

This year it was a performance, fitting into this year’s theme, based on Othmar Schoek’s 1933 piece Notturno Op.47. Around this was woven Orpheus after the Underworld, devised by Thomas Oliemans and Klaus Bertisch and with photographs by Ruben Terlou.

I must confess to being unfamiliar with Schoek so this was a pleasant eye-opener for me. Although essentially a very “modern” piece some passages were almost Wagnerian, especially in the vocals, and I detected the influence of Alban Berg. Interesting character, Schoek. Born and spending most of his life in Switzerland, he was a prolific composer, especially of lieder – and controversial too. Although apparently not a Nazi, his work was openly performed and admired in Germany during that period.

The five poems by Nikolaus Lenau, to which the music was set, were suitably dark and bleak with titles such as The Dream Was So Frightening, The Dream was so Gruesome, The Wind Blows so Cool and Sound and Colour Have Been Silenced. Hmmm, not many laughs here then.

Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans, as the Festival’s organiser for this year, certainly seems to have his work cut out, appearing in something virtually every day. He is a very fine singer and, on the strength of this performance, a fine actor two. In a white T-shirt, crumpled suit and bare feet he was the very epitome of the troubled soul jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Accompanied by a string quartet, led again by the equally ubiquitous Candida Thomson, the whole thing had the feeling of a one-man mini-opera, an impression enhanced by the dramatic, ever-changing giant projections of photographs by Ruben Terlou. The other members of the excellent quartet were Ingrid van Dingstee on second violin, Georgy Kovalev on viola and Ella van Poucke on cello. Fiddling the knobs and making all the technical things happen was Pieter Heebink.

Simply mounted on an austere, square black stage, Mr Oliemans was constantly on the move, sometimes kneeling, sometimes beseeching, sometimes gazing at the pictures and finally lying sleeping as the silent figure of Euridice appeared to gently cover his prostrate body with his discarded jacket. Powerful stuff.

I was glad to have discovered Othmar Schoek’s and to have seen Thomas Oliemans giving a very fine performance, both vocally and dramatically. Loved it.      Michael Hasted      27th July 2019

Photo by and © AstridBurchardt/Michael Hasted

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