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9th December 2019

The Times

Richard Morrison

BBC SO/Bychkov review – tumultuous work certainly threw everything at Bosch.

There is still intense debate about the meaning of Hieronymus Bosch’s extraordinary depictions of Hell. Did he really believe in a Day of Judgement? Or were his grotesque paintings intended more to titillate his early 16th-century patrons, like a modern-day horrow movie?

Similar questions might be asked about Detlev Glanert’s epic Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch, which meshes the conventional requiem text with poems from the medieval Carmina Burana to depict the dead Bosch being “tried” for the seven deadly sins in turn. Does Glanert expect 21st-century audiences to relate seriously to this hellfire theology? Or is his title a knowing wink, a way of saying, “Pretend for 85 minutes you are Bosch’s contemporary and feel the terror of contemplating eternal damnation”?

A 59-year-old German with a penchant for lurid subjects (his Caligula sank without trace at English National Opera a few years ago), Glanert certainly threw everything at Bosch. On stage for this UK premiere was a vast panoply of singers, soloists and instrumentalists: the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, magnificently fired up under Semyon Bychkov. In the gallery the BBC Singers delivered a mournful modernist take on Renaissance polyphony, while an increasingly angry speaker (David Wilson-Johnson) continually summoned Bosch to face his maker. And halfway through the work an organist (the excellent Richard Pearce) let rip the sort of solo that makes Messiaen sound timid.

Much sounded recycled. The mechanistic choral declamation seemed straight out of Orff or Stravinsky; the dramatic Dies Irae invited comparison with Verdi; the macabre instrumentation evoked Ligeti; and the sudden choral shouts inevitably recalled Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Perhaps, echoing Sartre, Glanert believes that Hell is other people’s music. Yet his voice was always evident — capable of lush beauty as well as ferocious outbursts.

Preceding this tumultuous work, unaccompanied choral pieces by Bosch’s Flemish contemporaries — Crecquillon, Ockeghem and Pierre de la Rue — were performed with chaste precision by the BBC Singers under Andrew Griffiths’s direction. Their rich modal harmonies seemed light years from Bosch’s apocalyptic visions. You had to remind yourself that this was the actual musical world in which Bosch lived. The whole concert is on BBC Radio 3 tonight.

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9th December 2019

The Financial Times

Richard Fairman

Detlev Glanert’s Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch is a huge and entertaining experience. The composer’s piece was the centrepiece of a Total Immersion weekend at London’s Barbican.

A composer wanting to write a Requiem has a tough act to follow. Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi and others have already been there, though Britten’s War Requiem shows a way forward in reinterpreting the old text with a parallel, modern narrative. Perhaps Detlev Glanert had that in mind when he set about his Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch.

Over the weekend Glanert was the subject of “Total Immersion”, one of the BBC’s focus days on a single composer. Talks and chamber music led to an impressive performance of the Requiem, written in 2016 for the 500th anniversary of the Dutch artist’s death and, in every sense, the big event here. There is something of the showman about Glanert. Now approaching 60, he stands as one of the most prominent German composers of his generation, and his massive, exuberant Requiem, which goes at it hammer-and-tongs, is a clear descendant of the attention-seeking grandeur and glamour of Wagner and Strauss, with barely a nod to the elitism of Schoenberg and his followers.

With an abrupt call to attention, Bosch is found at the gates of heaven, ready to be judged for his sins. Just as Britten interleaved the Latin text of the Requiem with first world war poetry to make his point, so Glanert draws on the medieval poems of the Carmina Burana. It is as if the sanctity of a cathedral is being invaded by rumbustious monks, bawdy, irreverent, satirical.

Glanert is in his element bringing the seven deadly sins to life, though some are more striking than others (“Sloth” is deliciously seductive, whereas “Lust” seems a rather uninviting affair). What is more surprising is the heady sweetness of emotion that he draws from the Latin text, where so many composers have trodden before. Kitsch is just held at bay.

It all makes for a huge and entertaining live experience. At the Barbican the performers enveloped the audience, the four soloists — Aga Mikolaj, Christa Mayer, Norbert Ernst and Albert Pesendorfer — on stage with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov. Behind and above, speaker David Wilson-Johnson summoned Bosch to his last judgment and the BBC Singers, who had earlier sung Renaissance choral music, responded with rapt beauty, like angels beckoning from on high.

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9th December 2019

The Arts Desk

Peter Quantrill

Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch, BBCSO, Bychkov, Barbican review – fire and brimstone on a flat canvas.

Gigantomania claims another victim as Glanert’s magnum opus reaches the UK.

“Hieronymus!” bellowed David Wilson Johnson from the Barbican Hall’s circle on Saturday evening. “Hieronymus Bosch!” Commissioned by Dutch radio for a big piece to mark 500 years since the passing of the Dutch painter in 1516, the German composer Detlev Glanert wrote a Requiem. There is a precedent for his grand design in the War Requiem of Britten, where poems of Wilfred Owen are interleaved with the text of the Requiem Mass. Glanert alighted on the Seven Deadly Sins, as described in the medieval collection of Carmina burana on which Orff drew for his barnstorming, perennially popular cantata.

Was Bosch being summoned to account for his own sins? Or for his wickedly unsparing portrayal of human vice in general? It wasn’t clear. Either way there was no sign of the carnivalesque aspect to Bosch’s painting in Glanert’s score, nor the humour, black and madcap, nor the ambiguity – was Bosch a heretic, or a fervent believer in eternal hellfire as well as earthly pleasures? While certainly long on fire and brimstone – the orchestration had a manic quality associated with some of Schumann’s music in which everyone appears to be doing everything, all the time – the Requiem was disappointingly short of the finely drawn specifics to be savoured on a Bosch canvas.

Born in 1960, Glanert has written 14 operas and a substantial body of orchestral music, much of it known to British audiences through the efforts of the BBC. Doubtless the prospect of staging the first UK performance of his longest and loudest concert work held a certain, glamorous appeal to the programmers of this “Total Immersion” day which fell far shorter of fulfilling its brief than recent projects dedicated to Ligeti, Julian Anderson or the Boulanger sisters. I wonder if the money would have been better spent on a much more wide-ranging survey of his output beginning with the Mahler/Skizze persuasively championed by the late Oliver Knussen, for example, on second UK performances of more focused pieces such as the Megaris introduced to London by Sakari Oramo in 2018, on Glanert’s evocative Mahler and Schubert arrangements, even on more modest works still awaiting a first UK performance such as the Harp Concerto. Less can still be more.The performance itself lacked nothing for sympathetic commitment, technical command or energy, especially on the part of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Singers at full strength. Semyon Bychkov handled dynamics carefully within an acoustic at the limits of accommodating Glanert’s frequent recourse to literal-minded eruptions of brass and choral clamour. The quartet of vocal soloists (Aga Mikolaj, Christa Mayer, Norbert Ernst and Albert Pesendorfer) worked hard, and not in vain, to project arias and ensembles of threadbare melodic quality over the dense and expressionistically illustrative orchestral textures.

I found myself longing, however, for a deft vignette that didn’t have someone else’s fingerprints all over it: here a John Adams-lite ostinato, there a Mussorgskian skirl of strings, often a French perfume to be scented wafting over all the sulphur. Quotation need not lapse into pastiche, and any composer tackling a Requiem will likely engage with its heritage. But Glanert’s piece creaks and groans under the anxiety of influence, even more so than the late work of his teacher Henze. It’s hard to understand what place Messiaen’s “Dieu parmi nous” has in the half-time organ solo, or the Summer’s Wild Hunt from Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in the preceding conclusion to the Dies Irae, other than to fill the gap of original inspiration.A trio of Bosch’s contemporaries supplied some of the missing invention in a first half of 16th-century secular songs and sacred motets. A 10-strong consort drawn from the BBC Singers and conducted by Andrew Griffiths made a more than passable counterpart to the Brabant Ensemble in three brief but exquisite love-songs by Thomas Crecquillon, infused with smooth and subtle sensuality: an all-too-salutary contrast to the sticky and curiously empty vision of Paradise (haunted by the devout Fauré and the unbeliever Strauss) with which Glanert closes out the Requiem.

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8th December 2019

The Guardian

Andrew Clements

The painter is called out for his misdeeds in Detlev Glanert’s apocalyptic, sometimes awesome requiem, beautifully performed under Semyon Bychkov.

Between 2011 and 2017, the German opera composer Detlev Glanert was in residence with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Among the music he wrote for the orchestra during that time was a monumental choral work for the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary, in 2016, of the death of Hieronymus Bosch – first performed in the artist’s home city of Den Bosch in November of that year. The British premiere of Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and its chorus, was the spectacular climax of a Total Immersion day devoted to Glanert’s music.

The Latin mass for the dead provides the framework of the tribute, but this is much more than a straightforward requiem. Glanert interleaved the sections of the mass with texts from Carmina Burana, the anthology of medieval poems. These deal with each of the seven deadly sins in turn, beginning with gluttony and ending with avarice. Before the last judgment, it seems, Bosch is being summoned by a speaker to account for all the sins he depicted so gleefully in his paintings.

Much of the choral writing is suitably apocalyptic, the orchestration massively detailed and the depiction of the sins mostly left to the soloists, while a chamber choir at the back of the hall supply most of the reflective moments. But though there are some majestically awesome passages, this dramatic oratorio is not quite as theatrically vivid as it could be. The Carmina Burana texts may be scurrilous but are never allowed to undermine the requiem as much as they might. And though solo instruments emerge occasionally from the roiling textures – a comforting cor anglais, a menacing tuba – there are not enough of such moments to dispel a sense of unvaried density through long passages.

The performance under Bychkov couldn’t be faulted. Aga Mikolaj, Christa Mayer, Norbert Ernst and Albert Albert Pesendorfer were the four soloists, and David Wilson-Johnson the stentorian speaker, summoning Bosch to account for himself from the back of the hall, while the BBC Singers (who prefaced the requiem with a beautifully delivered group of sacred and profane Flemish settings from Bosch’s time) provided the chamber choir.

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