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MET Orchestra Perform the Cycles of Mahler

Esa-Pekka Salonen

A glorious season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall finished this month with three superb concerts featuring the excellent MET Orchestra under the inspired direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen, with each program devoted in part to a Gustav Mahler song cycle. The first performance, presented on the evening of Wednesday, May 31st, opened with selections from Mahler's sensuous Des Knaben Wunderhorn sung by two outstanding artists, renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the fine tenor Matthew Polenzani. Both singers unexpectedly sounded slightly underpowered but the orchestral playing was crystalline. The second half of the program was more impressive with probably the most extraordinary account I have heard in the concert hall of the same composer's frequently performed, magnificent Symphony No. 1, the apotheosis of all three programs.

The next concert—given on the afternoon of Saturday, June 3rd—merited comparable esteem, opening with a sterling reading of Robert Schumann's beautiful Symphony No. 3, the "Rhenish", a work surprisingly not much heard on New York stages lately. The latter half of the program surpassed the first with a stunning version of Mahler's sublime Das Lied von der Erde, showcasing two thrilling singers—the lovely mezzo-soprano, Karen Cargill, and the dynamic tenor, Stuart Skelton—both exquisitely accompanied by the ensemble in another pellucid realization.

The final program—which took place on the evening of the following Tuesday—also satisfied, beginning with an elegant account of Mahler's seldom performed, posthumously published, but gorgeous Blumine. Celebrated virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff then took the stage for a rewarding performance of the wonderful Violin Concerto of Jean Sibelius, a composer with whom the conductor has had a privileged relationship. Vigorous applause earned the audience an enjoyable encore from the soloist: the challenging Presto from the Solo Violin Sonata, BB 124, of Béla Bartók.

The second half of the concert started with the moving Mahler Kindertotenlieder, appealingly sung by the popular mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, who nonetheless seemed slightly underpowered. The event closed strongly with a compelling rendition of the idiosyncratic, mysterious Sibelius Symphony No. 7. One looks forward enormously to hearing these distinguished musicians again next season.

WOWing Us All at The Apollo Theater This Last Weekend

(L to R) Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Esperanza Spalding

When the Apollo Theater had announced that it would be holding the next Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival recently, it almost seem too good an idea to be believed.

Idee dee DSC02609 copyn its all too-short a time — from Friday, May 4th, to Sunday, May 7th — it provided everything from the WOW Teen Summit featuring a talk by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe to a day of free panels, workshops, and performances celebrating empowerment and activism. Yet that’s what it did — offering a range of activities that brought together disparate age groups and communities in Harlem to celebrate its community of women.

esper DSC02614 copyIn doing so, it served a set of needs that haven’t been so fulfilled before, rich in creativity and solid in enthusiasm. But of all the events presented at The Apollo  during the Southbank Centre’s WOW Fest, the Abbey Lincoln Tribute held Saturday night was one of the most memorable music performances heard and seen in that august and history-rich performance hall. In a far too-brisk two hours or so, premiere jazz vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding covered the catalogue of this innovative singer and songwriter. Under the musical direction of noted drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the evening provided an incredible forum to hear some the finest female voices on any stage, a recollection of a singer/songwriter/actress who shouldn’t be forgotten and a reminder of how she had merge art and activism to fashion an incredibly full life in her 80 years.

By stepping into the Apollo last Saturday to hear the Abbey Lincoln tribute, the audience was transported into a world of fierce and unrelenting passion and aural art. The seamless bonding of these three performers — Bridgewater, Reeves and Spalding — made for a momentous event. 

diane DSC02597 copyThis trio both celebrated and re-energized the songs of a legendary singer who had transformed classic jazz vocals into something richer both of her time and yet timeless. Lincoln had a way to restructuring the framework of jazz tunes to pivot between classic song structures and an avant gardism at the same time.

While Bridgewater was the big gospel-fied power vocalist, Reeves shaded her renditions of Lincoln’s songs with a mellifluous flow up and down the scales, a testing of range and tonality. Spalding offered the alluring sexuality of a singer reminiscent of Billy Holiday’s own sultriness.

That evening made this remarkable weekend all the more remarkable and historic. It will be far too long to wait another year for the next WOW fest. A hurrah for WOW.


Bruckner's Middle Symphonies at Carnegie Hall

The extraordinary Anton Bruckner symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall, with the Staatskapelle Berlin under the admirable direction of the renowned Daniel Barenboim, continued impressively with the fourth concert, which was presented on the evening of Monday, January 23rd.

Barenboim and the ensemble beautifully sustained the high level of musicianship they had achieved on the first three nights of the cycle, opening with a luminous performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's lovely penultimate piano concerto, the No. 26 (the "Coronation"), with the maestro conducting from the piano. However, the most sublime music yet heard in the series was the eloquent account of the ensuing, grand Symphony No. 4, the "Romantic"—heard here in the revised, 1878-1880 version—one of Bruckner's most purely accessible essays in the genre. The enthusiasm in the applause following this surpassed that of the previous programs, and understandably so.

The next evening opened with a charming reading of the appealing Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Orchestra, controversially attributed to Mozart, with Gregor Witt on oboe, Matthias Glander on clarinet, Mathias Baier on bassoon, and Radovan Vlatković on French horn, each one very fine. The second half of the program was a study in extreme contrast, featuring the titanic Symphony No. 5. From a technical viewpoint this was the most remarkable accomplishment thus far in the cycle, if only for the realization of the awesome finale. Fittingly, Barenboim and the musicians drew enormous applause.

A pinnacle amongst the Mozart works in this series was achieved on the following evening with a dazzling account of the exquisite Piano Concerto No. 22, with Barenboim again conducting from the piano. This was one of the finest presentations of the composer's piano concertos that I have ever heard in the concert hall and the soloist was in supreme form. The astonishing lucidity of the Mozart was even more strikingly equaled in the performance of the challenging Symphony No. 6, heard in an elegant and confident reading that, one hopes, presages further delights to be encountered in the final three concerts of the cycle. The musicians were once again robustly applauded.

Staatskapelle Berlin Brings Mozart and Bruckner to Life

Daniel Barenboim

The heightened expectations aroused by the excellent earlier concerts in the Anton Bruckner symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall, presented by the sterling Staatskapelle Berlin under the accomplished direction of the esteemed Daniel Barenboim, were amply fulfilled on the evening of Friday, January 27th. Each program thus far had featured a wonderful concert work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and this one opened with a superb account of the extraordinary Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, with admirable soloists Wolfram Brandl on violin and Yulia Deyneka on the viola. 

The series may have reached its peak in sublimity, however, with the gripping performance of the popular Symphony No. 7 that followed. The applause was fittingly rapturous. But, another summit was scaled the following evening with a stunning realization of the equally grand but even more challenging Symphony No. 8—heard here in the Robert Haas edition —which garnered another thunderous ovation.

The final program in the cycle, presented on the next day, opened with a glittering account of another lovely Mozart piano concerto, the 23rd. The concert concluded awesomely with a powerful version of the towering, unfinished Symphony No. 9. The applause surpassed that of all the previous evenings and members of the audience handed Barenboim individual red, long-stemmed roses in appreciation of a landmark series, purportedly the first complete cycle of the canonical Bruckner symphonies in New York history. It was exceedingly edifying as well as an enormous pleasure to be able to attend all these performances led by a living legend.

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