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Classical Music Review—Barbara Hannigan at Park Avenue Armory, on CD/DVD/Blu-ray

Barbara Hannigan

November 18, 2017


Barbara Hannigan performing Satie at Park Avenue Armory

Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan is no stranger to daring programs, which she proves again with her recent stunning Erik Satie recital at the Park Avenue Armory, a new CD of music by George Gershwin, Alban Berg and Luciano Berio, and a concert Blu-ray of her singing more Berg and another of her contemporary favorites, Gyorgy Ligeti.


At the Armory, Hannigan paired with estimable pianist Reinbert de Leeuw for two programs. I missed the first, of songs by the Second Viennese School, but the second, of works by Satie—the minimalist French master best-known for his elegant miniatures Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes—was revelatory not only in performance but in the presentation.


As the audience waited outside the Armory’s intimate Board of Officers Room, the doors opened, de Leeuw began playing Satie’s ballet Uspud, and Hannigan walked barefoot through the crowd holding a candle. After she entered the room, the audience followed, taking seats arrayed around the piano. (The semi-darkness hampered some from taking their seats promptly and properly: one unfortunate soul tripped and fell.) As de Leeuw finished his crisp reading of the half-hour work, Hannigan walked up to a second-level balcony overlooking the room where she began singing Satie’s masterly Socrate—originally written for four female voices—and she simply mesmerized everyone in the room, acting out the quartet of characters, including Socrates, in this astonishing 40-minute work.


Hannigan’s dramatic intensity was evident throughout the performance; she stalked, walked, climbed all over the stage, even turning the pianist’s music pages, and it was impossible to look away from her, whatever she was doing. Too bad some of her most memorable moments while on the balcony were missed by audience members seated with their back to her.


If you’ve never seen Hannigan live, a Blu-ray release of her 2015 performance with the London Symphony Orchestra is available on the LSO Live label. Hannigan’s typical focus—encompassing richly detailed singing and magnetic stage presence—as she performs Berg’s Fragments from “Wozzeck” and Ligeti’s spectacularly nonsensical Mysteries of the Macabre (the latter she sings in a ridiculously silly/sexy get-up) shows off the soprano at her bewitching best, complemented by the LSO and conductor Simon Rattle, who also play Anton Webern and Igor Stravinsky.


Hannigan's Crazy Girl Crazy CD

Hannigan herself is conductor on her latest CD, Crazy Girl Crazy, on the Alpha Classics label, in which she collaborates with the Ludwig Orchestra on a new arrangement of Gershwin’s Girl Crazy suite, Berg’s suite from his opera Lulu (I’d love to have the chance to see Hannigan take on that challenging role), and Berio’s wordless pyrotechnic exercise, Sequenza III. Hannigan of course easily traverses this wide-ranging program, her impassioned takes on Gershwin and Berg as impressive as her coughing, whispering, shrieking Berio gymnastics. A great bonus is a DVD of French actor Mathieu Amalric’s short film about Hannigan at work, Music is Music, which provides a further visual component to Hannigan’s dazzling artistry.


Barbara Hannigan

Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY

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