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In performance: Fischer and NSO

In today's Washington Post: Iván Fischer conducts the NSO in "Das Lied von der Erde" (ignore typos in the headline), by Anne Midgette.

By Anne Midgette  |  January 22, 2010; 8:42 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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I enjoy reading Anne Midgette's columns the morning after hearing a performance because it often gives us insight into why we enjoyed a concert or not. We don't always agree with her (this time we did,) but they add to our concert experience. My wife and I were both a little disappointed with last night's performance of the Prague symphony but couldn't exactly say why. It seemed a little rough in patches and, for me, lacked the sublimity that I usually associate with that particular work. As I thought about it over my morning coffee, perhaps the orchestra simply wasn't very enthusiastic about it, anticipating the excitement to come.

The Mahler was spectacular, moving and enjoyable, but not without its own problems. We had a great deal of trouble hearing both singers, particularly the tenor. This is not surprising considering the number of instruments their voices have to compete with. I wonder if any singer could overcome such orchestral forces. What was Mahler thinking? Does the composer hear the music in his mind more than with his ears? I felt that the performance of this work could benefit greatly from supertitles. If, as the program notes suggested, Mahler found solace in the poems and was inspired by them, then following along with the words, even the English translations, would help in understanding the music Mahler wrapped around them. What Anne described as "depositing the listener into new emotional landscapes without warning. But that meant the wonderful details emerged in particularly sharp relief" to this untutored mind led me to think of the music, with no disrespect intended, as lovely special effects. The resonances and modulations were wonderful to hear. Too bad we couldn't connect the music with the poetry or the meaning of the lyrics. Trying to read the printed lyrics in dim lights just didn't work. We did find Stotijn's performance effective and affecting even though it was a little difficult to hear her.

Having grumbled, I would like to say that I always enjoy hearing how Ivan Fischer presents a work and this concert was no exception.

Posted by: William Kirchhoff | January 22, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I sat in the far reaches of the upper balcony on Thursday evening (on a gift ticket from a chorus colleague, so that a Georgetown music-loving German-major could enjoy my First Tier subscription ticket closer up), and my first impression in the Mahler was also that it was difficult to hear the soloists - especially tenor Stig Andersen.
But then I must add that I was spoiled by a recording which I obtained as a college student - the famous version with Bruno Walter, Kathleen Ferrier, and Julius Patzak & the Vienna Philharmonic. That remains the standard against which even last night's performance is judged, for me. Listening again to parts of that recording on YouTube, I had to admit that Patzak was much easier to understand, but he was also singing into a microphone, as was Ms. Ferrier (who also sounded stronger than Ms. Stotijn). But I agree, Stotijn's careful phrasing, absorption in the sheer beauty of the music, and special empathy for Mahler (cf. a YouTube interview with her on one of the Rueckert Songs which she loves) combined to make for a riveting performance. I was extremely moved by her rendition, especially of the final farewell movement. And I thought also at the end - what a marvelous Mahler conductor Ivan Fischer is, and what if he were actually the full-time conductor designate? The audience looked surprisingly sparse from the balcony for a Thursday evening - I may try to hear it again closer up on Saturday evening. I also found that I much prefer a tenor/mezzo-soprano or alto version to the two most recent recordings (such as Kent Naganos version) with two male soloists. And yes, the NSO solos in the last movement of the Mahler were beautifully performed.

Posted by: reithl | January 22, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I saw this performance Friday from the third row. I can read German, and I was also able to glance at the words from time to time to refresh my recollection. With these advantages, I can say that Christianne Stotijn's performance was one of the most extraordinary ones I have ever heard of any music anywhere. In a sense, it was a humble rendition. The singer was not trying to show off her skills, but to simply and truly share the music with us. And wow did she do that. Every word was given meaning. It seemed as if the voice was coaxing from the text a depth that was hidden there to be discovered. I was riveted to my seat, exhausted at the end, profoundly moved. It was as great music should be.

Posted by: jane33 | January 23, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I was at Thursday night's concert, about eight rows back in the center. I agree with many of the specific points made in this review--I thought both singers were a bit underpowered (though to be fair to the tenor, he has a massive orchestra to contend with, which is often at full blast during his parts) and parts of the first few movements of Das Lied von der Erde didn't flow well. Nonetheless, I thought the magnificent finale more than made up for the flaws in the rest of the piece. Christianne Stotijn's delicate voice and expressivity were perfectly matched to the text, and the orchestra's playing was among the best I've heard it do. Yes, I would have preferred to have been as profoundly moved throughout the entire piece, but the last half was more than enough for me.

Posted by: JohnCD | January 24, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Having gone to the Saturday Night Performance I would like to add a few more comments. First; although I am not always in sync with Ms. Middget's reviews, she was correct on the singers; the tenor is clearly a spent force and had no business singing this great work. The mezzo was also under voiced although her interpretation was quite moving and beautiful. The orchestra was at its best. I have never heard the NSO play with such nuance and gorgeous interplay with one wind player beginning seamlessly as the other ended his or her phrase. The new principal oboe player was fantastic and really changed the sound of the orchestra. Kudos to Fisher for really channeling the fine talent that clearly resides in this orchestra but which is rarely mined.

Posted by: commenter4 | January 25, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

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