Poul Schierbeck: Fête galante
01 October 2013
George HallPoul Schierbeck (1888 -1949) is not well known outside Denmark
. A pupil of Nielsen, he himself became an important teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1931, the year his sole original opera (the later Tiggeren
is a version of The Beggar's Opera
) reached the national stage, with the composer's wife, the soprano Sylvia Larsen, in the role of Suzon. It lasted just six performances, its critics objecting to its length. Schierbeck later revised and cut the piece, though its next complete performance was delayed until 1960, when the Royal Danish Opera revived it, once again with limited success; it is this second, abridged version that appears here.
Even so, the piece takes a fairly leisurely stroll through a slender plot that starts frivolously, turns more serious and finishes charmingly. The subject (based on a play by Max Lobedanz) refers to a Watteauesque intrigue at the court of Louis XY.The nobleman Rene tries to trick the innocent Suzon into a false marriage, as he has other women; but instead he finds himself falling in love with her and, ready to defend her honour in a duel, ultimately proves his sincerity. Schierbeck's accomplished score makes use of neo-Classical gestures in this piece with an 18th-century setting, including a couple of interjected songs in semi-period style. Elsewhere his eclectic, lightly ironic idiom takes sidelong glances towards Richard Strauss, but is more often genuinely individual in style. Schierbeck's orchestral writing is masterly, while his harmony sometimes moves (like Nielsen's) in unexpected directions. The overture, added to the score later and based on themes from the opera, is particularly strong, and has enjoyed popularity in Danish concert programmes. Better pacing would give the opera as a whole more viability; as it is, it seems likely to remain a local speciality to be sampled occasionally on its own territory.
This is an attractive performance, nevertheless, with the conductor Michael Schønwandt propelling the piece with enthusiastic efficiency. Dénise Beck's luminous soprano creates an alluring aura around Suzon, with the worldlier, more sophisticated René sharply defined by the tenor Michael Weinius. Floating fantastically around as they aid and abet various kinds of bad behaviour are the baritone Bo Skovhus as the boastful, clownish Scaramouche and the mezzo Andrea Pellegrini as his readily unfaithful wife. The Marquis d'Argenville - the antique nobleman whose pestering of Suzon leads to Rene's championing of the woman he was prepared to trick - is skilfully sung by the baritone Morten Frank Larsen.