The Wigmore Hall has changed under its new artistic director, Paul Kildea, and not necessarily for the better. An opportunity for the Queen Elizabeth Hall?by Stephen Everson / January 16, 2005 / Leave a comment
Showing off at the WigmoreLast October, Ann Murray and Simon Keenlyside performed Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn at the Wigmore Hall in an specially commissioned arrangement for chamber ensemble by James Olsen. Both singers are natural Mahlerians and, from what one could tell, Olsen’s arrangement was intelligent and imaginative. But the performance, conducted by Paul Kildea, the Wigmore’s new artistic director, was not a success. Even a fine conductor with an established reputation might hesitate before engaging himself in this way, but Kildea clearly has a more robust sensibility about such things. Unfortunately, the result was that the Wigmore failed to do justice to its own commission. If there is any point to such chamber arrangements, it should be that they will allow greater delicacy and flexibility than a normal orchestra performance, but Kildea’s heavy-handed approach meant that the singers, already constrained by his unyieldingly four-square rhythmic instincts, were all too often fighting to be heard over the instruments. Under Kildea’s busy direction, the work sounded less like chamber music than it does when played by a full orchestra under a conductor with a proper ear for instrumental balance.
It is not just in his willingness to take to his own stage that Kildea has renounced the self-effacing manner of his predecessor, William Lyne (as artistic director of the hall from 1966 until his retirement in 2003, Lyne restored it as one of the great international venues for instrumental, lieder and chamber recitals). Kildea is keen to use the Wigmore’s brochure to communicate with his audience, introducing each of three booking seasons and making occasional notes on the concerts. And while his descriptions of the musicians rarely rise above the generic – “Skovhus brings his considerable charisma and musicality to this work,” the Trio Wanderer is “really musical” – he is more informative about himself. We find out, for instance, that while he has “long admired” Philip Langridge’s artistry, “it was recently conducting him in Britten’s Nocturne that I was overwhelmed by… his profound understanding.” We learn too that he first heard Susan Bullock because “a friend invited me to a dress rehearsal of Tristan in Leeds,” and that he booked the Zehetmair Quartet when “as a member of the 2003 Gramophone awards panel, I listened with amazement and pleasure to the quartet’s Schumann recording.” On the other hand, the Vienna String Sextet’s recital in November goes unremarked, with Kildea not…