Robin Holloway's latest revisiting of Schumann's music, a Reliquary drawing on texts by Mary Queen of Scots, was unveiled at the BBC Proms in September
Robin Holloway’s special relationship with the music of Schumann, as witnessed by his Fantasy-Pieces on the Liederkreis cycle and Scenes from Schumann, took a further step with the premiere of Reliquary at the BBC Proms on 9 September. The 20-minute work was commissioned for the Schumann bicentenary and given its first performance by mezzo soprano Dorothea Röschmann and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Holloway subtitles Reliquary as ‘Scenes from the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, enclosing an instrumentation of Schumann's Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart’, and the new hybrid work breathed fresh life into Schumann’s songs.
“In their original piano version the Songs of Mary Queen of Scots are penitentially austere, but we heard them in a new orchestration by Robin Holloway which coloured their grey outlines and broadened their emotional palette. Between the songs, sung with stoical sadness by Dorothea Röschmann, we heard interludes by Holloway which remembered the young Mary dancing at the French court. A muffled drum-roll gave a doleful foreboding of her eventual march to the scaffold, and her prayer for her newly-born son was surrounded by unearthly sounds of celeste and harp and strings, issuing from some distant angelic realm. Only once did the music rise to protesting anguish; otherwise it was tactful in its tenderness, and all the more touching for it.”
“…taking these awkwardly plain songs, Holloway orchestrated them in brilliantly dappled, melancholy hues. Not stopping there, he also expanded the songs’ horizons with extra bars and pungent instrumental interludes. The result? Wonderful. The BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda clearly loved every haunted note of it… With Holloway’s sympathetic commentary added, Schumann’s late austerities became almost as human, and divine, as the song cycles of Mahler.”
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Photo: Pippa Patterson
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