Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Maria Mater Meretrix at the Barbican
In a cunning exploration of musical representations of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen, Maria Mater Meretrix represents a montage of sorts. It features 20 very different pieces as seemingly incompatible as Walther von der Vogelweide’s Palästinalied and Hanns Eisler’s Lied von der Kupplerin after Brecht. With stunning virtuosity, this project displays breathtaking skill and gorgeous music – but brought together in way that often feels jarring; sudden breaks in style take the audience out of the moment.
Maria Mater Meretrix (which roughly means Mary Mother Prostitute) was originally devised as a concept album around the theme of the two Marys by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (who concludes her Barbican spotlight series with this concert) and soprano Anna Prohaska. They are accompanied by the frequently fantastic chamber orchestra, Ensemble Resonanz.
The pieces are presented one after the other with no respite in between. While it always keeps one on one’s toes, each transition feels like a sudden tearing from the atmosphere. Sometimes it works well – such as in the strangely moving transition between George Crumb’s hauntingly atmospheric God-Music from Black Angels (performed with a cello and crystal glasses) and Dufay’s Ave Maris. Others feel awkward and mismatched, like they simply don’t belong together, such as when Maria durch ein Dornwald Ging (an Early Modern piece by anon) follows after György Kurtág’s dissonant Berceuse from his Kafka-Fragments.
Thankfully, the performances are top-notch. Prohaska’s soprano reaches stunning heights in a virtuosity that impresses both in its finesse and in its range. No matter if she is singing in Middle High German, English, Italian, in contemporary or Baroque styles, she delivers everything with bravura; it’s quite an accomplishment and gorgeous to listen to. Kopatchinskaja’s violin is always experimental. She has several eccentricities, but none of them are distracting – they serve the general performance well; she appears almost on-edge and is a joy to watch. While one can at times debate with her on her interpretations of some of the pieces, there is no question as to her mind-boggling skill with her instrument. She is clearly on top of her game.
All this renders Maria Mater Meretrix a strong ending to Kopatchinskaja’s spotlight series. With a stunning selection played masterfully, it’s a joy to hear, despite some questionable choices regarding the concept and the pieces’ compatibility.
Photos: Ash Knotek / Barbican
For further information and future events visit Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Maria Mater Meretrix’s website here.