I am on a roll as far as not getting thrown out of concert halls is concerned. (Has anyone ever been? I have never seen a concertgoer forcibly ejected from a venue, but the venues I frequent tend to be fairly staid – perhaps if I attended more song recitals in rough areas of Jersey there might be more action. You know, like in Blues Brothers where the band is behind chicken wire because the audience yells and throws beer bottles until they hear something they like. “Heidenröslein! Heeeiiidenröööööösleeeeeiin!”)
But anyway. At intermission, after the songs by Schubert and Strauss, I was disappointed in the experience I had had thus far – for me, at least, the “click” moment hadn’t happened yet. The climaxes of “Du bist die Ruh,” for example, seemed almost too much – or at least, the first one did. I found Damrau’s take on “Gretchen am Spinnrade” oddly operatic, especially the second half – the interpretation seemed the wrong size for the song. That said, the build up from “sein hoher Gang” to “sein Kuß!” had a nice amount of tension and drama (though I am not a fan of how the pianist, Craig Rutenberg, handled the bit right after that where Gretchen has to restart her spinning wheel).
During “Lied der Delphine,” the the last song of the Schubert set, I found myself watching Damrau sing as well as listening to her (I often listen with my eyes closed, or looking off somewhere else) and oddly enough, I ended up more drawn in to this song than to the previous items. The dynamic contrasts within the song seemed to flow more smoothly, for one thing. It seems to be a constant of song performances in this big hall — you get a sense that it always takes singers a while to get their voices adjusted to the space: it’s not an opera house, but neither is it an intimate recital hall.
It might also have been that Damrau and Rutenburg launched right into this last Schubert song from the previous one without giving the audience time to squeeze any applause in, thus making for a better transition and a better rendering of the song. Maybe there was a weird crowd in the hall on Sunday afternoon, but people kept applauding between the songs of the Schubert set; when she came back on stage for the next section of the program, the Strauss songs, Damrau patiently and politely explained that the songs were chosen carefully to go together, and that the transitions between them are important, and thus it would be optimal if we could “please clap after each composer.”
After intermission she sang two sets of songs in French, by Poulenc and Manuel Rosenthal. By the middle of the Poulenc songs I was glad to be in the room. Damrau seemed very at home in the French material – both these two groups of songs felt more vibrant than the material before the intermission. The Rosenthal songs, selections from “Chansons du Monsieur Bleu” (“Songs of Mr. Blue”) are little observations and stories narrated by a boy – Damrau was clearly having a lot of fun with these, and they were a pleasure to hear. I continued to watch as well as listen – a good thing too, as her gestures and acting here were not to be missed. (She was almost dancing during “Reingestimmt die Seiten” a little later in the program).
These were followed by a final set of songs in German by Dvořak. The Dvořak had a bit of that “operatic” vibe I got from some of the the Schubert songs – but with the ease of the Poulenc and Rosenthal. I have “absorbing” written on my program next to “Rings is der Wald so stumm und still” – several of these songs had a wonderful, lush richness that was a joy to hear.
There were two encores. The first, an animated little serenade, was not by Schubert – Damrau told us it was, and then got corrected by the pianist, stopped, laughed, literally spun around and then began the song and I had to look up the text later on to determine that it was in fact by Brahms. The second was Strauss’s “Morgen” ; I have heard two lovely renditions of this song in the past three days – Damrau’s and Tara Erraught’s – it’s been quite a weekend.