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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Concert Review: A Valkyrie, Lost in the Woods

Erwartung at the New York Philharmonic with Deborah Voigt
Original stage set design for Erwartung. Crayon, pastel and watercolor by Arnold Schoenberg.
From the composer's collection at the Arnold Schoenberg Center.
This week's concert by the New York Philharmonic exhibited different aspects of early 20th century art, contrasting the surreal, exuberant humor of Shostakovich, the potent symbolism of Rachmaninoff and the sharp-edged expressionism of Schoenberg. David Robertson conducted.

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his First Symphony as his graduation piece for the Leningrad Conservatory, when he was just 19 years old. It is a powerful, fully mature symphony that is too often dismissed as a work of juvinalia. Although not as dark as the works of Shostakovich's maturity and redolent with the influence of Prokofiev, this is a compelling work that should be performed more frequently.

Mr. Robertson led an engaging performance of the work, with its memorable themes and elegaic little solos for oboe, violin, 'cello and horn. The jaunty, almost nautical theme of the first movement (cribbed by Disney for "Hi diddley-hi" and the elegaic lento movement engaged the audience. The final Allegro, with its long working out of the "fate" theme from Wagner's Die Walküre brought the work to a muscular finish.
The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin.
Collection of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland.
Sergei Rachmaninoff's The Isle of the Dead is a much darker affair. Rachmaninoff's tone poem was inspired by Arnold Böcklin's symbolist painting, a symbolist work that depicts a possible vision of the afterlife. Under Mr. Robertson, the Philharmonic built a slow but mighty crescendo, from the opening figures that depict the oars of Charon's boat leading one to the afterlife to the majestic final bars.

Erwartung is one of Schoenberg's thorniest creations, a 30-minue psychodrama that stretches the ideas of atonality and chromaticism to their absolute limit. The Woman, as she is known, was played by Deborah Voigt, who is currently between Brünnhilde in the Met's Ring Cycle and the title role in Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun at this summer's Glimmerglass Festival. 

Ms. Voigt used her deep experience of the long vocal lines of Richard Strauss' operas in order to make a magnificent impression. She brought vocal warmth and vulnerability to put the listener at the center of the Woman's plight. Lost in the woods and terrified of the dark forest, she caressed the words with her voice and evoked the happiness that was once hers.

When her lover's corpse was found, the soprano tapped into the reserves of power she has been building since she decided to transition into the heaviest roles of Wagner and Puccini. On the bright side of Avery Fisher Hall, the soprano cast a cone of shadow, imbuing Schoenberg' psychodrama with touching vulnerability. The opera was expertly played by the Philharmonic under Mr. Robertson's sure baton in a performance that met the high expectations that New York currently has for the Met's Brunnhilde of the moment.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.