Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor; Kirill Gerstein, piano. August 15, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat D8, $50).

Pre-Concert Recital
Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 (1840) by Schumann (1810-1856).
Susanna Phillips, soprano; Louis Langree, piano.

Variations on a Theme by R. Schumann for piano solo (1854) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Piano Concerto in A minor (1841-45) by Schumann.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1862-76) by Brahms.

The attendance for the pre-concert event was good, although not as good as the one at the last concert we attended.  And those that chose not to make it missed a good one.

First, I admit I am not one into art songs, so I usually just acknowledge them and go to the next piece.  And I also complain about the acoustics for voices against orchestras in this auditorium.  Perhaps due to the (particularly) weak-sounding piano, Susanna Phillip’s voice carried very well, from beginning to end of this 20-minute program.  She sang clearly, with the right mix of emotions, and told the story well.  One thing I am not sure about is how good her German is, I am quite sure she got the pronunciation of many words wrong.  Evidently Langree is a competent pianist (few conductors start out in life as one), although he could have pounded the keys a bit harder, in my opinion.

Schumann took all of two days to set eight of Adalbert von Chamisso’s poems into music after he learned all the legal challenges put up by Clara Wieck’s father were resolved.  “A Woman’s Love and Live” traces the narrator’s adult life of courtship, pregnancy, motherhood, and death of her husband.  The poems are: (i) Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since Seeing Him); (ii) Er, der Herrlichste von allen (He, the Most Wonderful of All); (iii) Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben (I Cannot Grasp It, Believe It); (iv) Du Ring an meinem Finger (Ring on My Finger); (v) Helft mir, ihr Schwestern (Help Me, Sisters); (vi) Susser Freund, du blickest (Sweet Friend, You Look); (vii) An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (At My Heart, at My Breast); and (viii) Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (Now Have You Caused Me My First Pain).  I found it a bit curious that the commentator saw the need to rationalize some of the non-gender-equal tone in the lyrics to accommodate the sensitivities of today’s audience.

Susanna Phillips, with Louis Langree looking on, after she sang the Schumann songs.

As noted both by Gerstein and Langree, the main program also threw Brahms and his relationship with the Schumann’s into the mix.

The variations were written by Brahms in 1854, a year of great difficult for Robert (he was already in an asylum) and Clara (pregnant with their seventh child); and Brahms was developing an infatuation for Clara, to boot.  A year earlier, Clara showed Brahms a set of variations she wrote based on a subject written by Robert.  Brahms then composed these variation with the inscription “Short variations on a theme by Him, dedicated to Her.”  By the time the music was published, it was certainly not short (lasting close to 20 minutes).  I don’t remember ever hearing it before, but it was quite enjoyable, and I am sure the enjoyment will increase as I get to know the music and its structure.  The Clara variations will be performed at another Mostly Mozart event.

The Schumann piano concerto was clearly a piece written for the virtuoso, and Gerstein delivered.  Our seats were on the right front part of the orchestra, so we saw mostly his face as he was playing, but the piano sound came through clearly.

For encore, Gerstein played the slow movement of a piano sonata composed by Clara but orchestrated by Robert .  The cello was the only instrument (exception for the last part where the timpani was added) used and Gerstein described it as a love duet between Clara and Robert.

Brahms’s first symphony took a mere 22 years, if one counts as the starting point Brahms’s first sketches for the work.  Much has been said about how this work was in the tradition of Beethoven’s Symphonies – including Brahms’s own remark “any ass can see that.”  I can certainly get that similarity, but do not have enough understanding of Beethoven’s symphonies to called this the “tenth.”  Except for the theme of the last movement, I was mostly unfamiliar with this work.

Our seats so close to the stage reminded me of some of the shortcomings of the orchestra.  Today it was hearing the individual string players “too clearly.”  The orchestra roster has a few impressive names: Cobb is NY Phil’s principal bass, Rhoten is the principal timpanist, Finkelshteyn is the principal cello of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Kirill Gerstein after the Schumann Piano Concerto.

Perhaps this is the summer season, or perhaps of my lower expectations, I really enjoyed this concert, not losing patience like I did with the last concert.

We had a simple dinner at Europan.

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