Tag: Berg

Karita Mattila / Alice Tully Hall 3-10-16

This was the best concert I have been to in months – exciting, beautifully rendered, balls-to-the-wall Lieder singing from the very first song. I had never heard Mattila live before, and I now wish I had more opportunities to do so – her voice is stunning. It’s bigger than I expected from recordings; part of me wished I had been able to sit closer to as to see more of her acting up close (I was in the back row of the balcony) but I think that aurally back center of the hall was perfect.

And it was so nice to go to a concert that does not consist of songs I have heard a thousand times before! Familiar material, but not too much so. The first set was Brahms’s Ziguenerlieder (Gypsy Songs). Mattila threw herself into these both vocally and physically; I realized when I opened my eyes somewhere around ‘Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen” that by not watching I was missing out.

I have heard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder a few times before, but I never listened to them with the same attention as I did last night. Among the high points here was the final song, “Träume,” (“Dreams”) which was spellbinding, from the moment the vocal line steps quietly out of the piano part until it sinks away again at the final lines of the text. Afterwards, I kept trying to put into words the feeling of when a song performance really clicks. I have a sense of being able to follow what is being expressed, even if it is in a language I don’t know, or don’t know well enough to understand every word; I also get an impression of the song, or at least the vocal line, holding itself together – there’s a feeling of wholeness. Whatever it was, and however you want to describe it, there was plenty of it in this concert.

After intermission, Mattila sang Berg’s Four Songs, Op. 2. The more I hear live performances of Berg’s songs, the more I like them. Here, with the first one, “Dem Schmerz sein Recht,” every note seemed to fall perfectly into place (I have in my notes “this just gets better and better”); the entire set was over far too quickly, and when we’d moved on to Strauss I wished for a moment that we could stay in Berg world for a while more.

Mattila’s stage presence is lively, funny and extremely energetic, and she certainly knows how to butter up her audience. She introduced her encore, a jazz (I think?) song called “Eine kleine Sehnsucht” with the observation that she had learned a new English word recently, “yearning,” and that this song perfectly expressed her yearning to come to New York again – “but in German, of course.” She delivered the song with the sort of style and sparkle that in retrospect I think Renée Fleming was going for in her similarly jazzy encore the other night, but didn’t (by comparison) quite nail. Mattila nailed it.

Dorothea Röschmann and Mitsuko Uchida / Songs by Schumann and Berg

5119eS-4t8LThis recital is so very, very good that you just sit there stunned and then have to pick yourself up off the floor, regroup and sit there stunned for a little while longer. I heard the live version of this concert at Carnegie Hall last spring; this CD was recorded a few weeks later at Wigmore Hall, and I think the Londoners got the better performance, because again, while what I heard was good, this was utterly amazing. Every note of this performance is alive.

Röschmann and Uchida perform three sets of songs, Schumann’s Op. 39 Liederkreis, Berg’s Seven Early Songs, and Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben.

Uchida’s piano playing reveals that the piano part in these songs is not just “accompaniment” but rather a second voice in the piece. She brings out details that I had not registered before – the heartbeat pulse of the piano part in “Intermezzo” in the Leiderkreis, the way the piano lines wrap up the story of witch and wanderer in “Waldesgespräch”, the rushing of the little brook in “In der Fremde” or the simple glow of happiness in “Frühlingsnacht.” I was just listening to bits of the recital again as I write this (sometimes I can figure out what I was talking about in my original chickenscratch notes; other times – as is common with important historical documents – the notes are written in a left-handed scrawl so impenetrably awful that I have to go back and re-create the moment in order to interpret the record) and a second listen does nothing but confirm Uchida’s power to make the piano part speak.

read the rest

Dorothea Röschmann and Mitsuko Uchida / Carnegie Hall 4-22-15

This recital almost – almost – brought me around to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben. Only to the point where I will listen to this cycle if 1) Dorothea Röschmann is singing them 2) live.  I realize that this is a fairly specific set of conditions, but keep in mind that it’s a fairly irritating set of songs. 

But before those, we had Schumann’s Op. 39 Liederkreis and Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs. I have heard several live recordings of Frau R singing the Liederkreis, and I’ve said my bit about that elsewhere. What marked this performance out for me was Uchida on the piano – there was something slower and more meditative about this performance than those others. “In der Fremde” (the first song) was gentler than I remember, and “Intermezzo” was similarly more relaxed. I also noticed with these first two songs that beginning-of-concert feel where the singer’s voice sort of stretches out and fits itself into the space of the concert hall. Having heard our friend Röschmann in recital in both the smaller Zankel auditorium at Carnegie Hall as well as the bigger main stage, I will say that there is nothing in my memory that quite compares to being in the front row in that smaller space – you miss nothing. That said, I was sitting for the first time in the First Tier in the big hall, and while one might miss a few subtleties of acting, the sound from that part of the auditorium is excellent. If my memory is correct, Röschmann is not on the schedule for Carnegie Hall’s 15-16 season, so I might not hear her voice for a while; part of the pleasure of the Liederkreis for me was just savoring how she sounds. (Including her low notes. Based on a cursory reading of the internet I have gathered that not everyone likes those. I like them. They have a different color than the rest of her voice, and – well, I like them. That’s all.)

That said, my favorite bits of that cycle have not changed, e.g. the ache of the “wie bald, ach wie bald” line in “In der Fremde,” or the last lines of “Waldesgesprach” where the witch reveals to the traveller that he is in the woods for the duration, or – speaking of low notes – the last stanza of “Zwielicht,” especially the “hüte dich, sei wach und munter!” line. In “Die stille” I was reminded again of how she can turn a little song into a miniature opera. 

I had heard the Alban Berg songs before, but I never really absorbed them. Between Röschmann and Uchida I had a sense this time of understanding much better how they work – “Shilflied” and “Die Nachtigall” were particularly beautiful (I have “I get it!” written in the margin of my notes). 

Finally, that other set of Schumann songs. First – a point that emerged with bell-like clarity in “seit ich ihn gesehen” – it’s hard not to like something thing that is sung so beautifully. But what did it for me was something characteristic of Röschmann’s interpretive style. Her performances always come with great force of feeling, and what she did in “er, der herrlichste von allen,” for example, was to take the youthful innocence of the character, the force of the young woman’s love and desire (e.g. in the line “holde Lippen, klares Auge”) and present them so honestly that my resistence to the treacly text was just – knife edge, here – overcome. The same is true of the deep earnestness of the protagonist in “du Ring an meinem Finger.” Throughout the cycle, we’re given the music and text as simply: this is how this young woman feels. And because she (Röschmann) is so in character, it works. Apparently the trick of this cycle is to take it at its word and go with it. And the end of the last song, when the Magic Husband has died – those last lines were quiet, intimate and charged with grief. 

Röschmann and Uchida did two encores, Schubert’s setting of “Nur wer die Sennsucht kennt” and Wolf’s “Kennst du das Land.” I loved Uchida’s playing in the second in particular – especially in the wave of sound before “kennst du es wohl?” and the drawing back afterward. 

I came out of this recital feeling very satisfied. I think I may be experiencing with Röschmann’s song recitals what I have been experiencing with Joyce DiDonato’s opera performances: one is chasing the dragon to some exent, since it’s never going to be quite like the first time, but it’s always worth it.