Edward Bhesania attends the interdisciplinary performance at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall on 18 October 2023
With its themes of love and transcendence and its forest setting, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht is a work ripe for theatrical possibilities. Realising this, the Mullova Ensemble placed it at the end of a sequence of pieces exploring various aspects of it. The sequence ran in a seamless thread, linked by five darkly atmospheric electronic soundscapes composed by Jasmine Morris – one for each of the five stanzas of Richard Dehmel’s poem on which Schoenberg’s work is based. The most intriguing and innovative element was the dance of Ching-Ying Chien, for the large part lyrical, though occasionally oddly robotic, and sometimes interacting with the players (at one point Chien inserted herself within the crook of cellist Matthew Barley’s bow arm) before a projected backdrop of a moonlit wood.
The Strad Podcast #94: a theatrical Verklärte Nacht with cellist Matthew Barley
The most revealing of the satellite pieces were Debussy’s Clair de lune, Strauss’s song ‘Woodland Rapture’ (both in string arrangements) and the third movement of Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’ Quartet, whose strange lullaby quality resonated with the woman’s unborn child in the poem. Verklärte Nacht itself, however, was given without any dance element. If the playing throughout was committed, with Mullova and Barley joined by younger musicians of the ensemble, the performances, for better or worse, were rather subsumed within the multidisciplinary whole. This was a thoughtful project that had an enveloping quality, but it didn’t quite cohere overall.