London Philharmonic/Ono Nathalie Stutzmann [Tod und Verklärung … Rückert-Lieder … Daphnis et Chloé]

Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Daphnis et Chloé – Suites 1 & 2

Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kazushi Ono

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 17 November, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Kazushi OnoIn a year (the first of two!) in which Mahler fills the schedules of every major orchestra, the London Philharmonic and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann gave us a genuine highlight. Stutzmann’s intensely moving performance of Mahler’s “Rückert-Lieder” reminded of his mastery of intimacy scale. Throughout the five songs Stutzmann maintained a fine consistency of vocal tone. Her voice is not large, but this seemed all the more appropriate given that these songs (particularly ‘Um Mitternacht’) contain some of Mahler’s sparest orchestrations. In the second song, ‘Ich atmet’ einem linden Duft’, Stutzmann brought a seductive quality to Rückert’s fond paean to “the gentle fragrance of love” and sparingly coloured occasional phrases with a voice free from vibrato. Most effective of all was the final setting, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, one of Mahler’s most touching farewells. Mahler’s treatment of Rückert’s text is remarkable for eschewing the poem’s inherent solipsism and arriving at something still and quietly radiant. Stutzmann’s concentration was rapt, interacting wonderfully with the beautiful contributions from the cor anglais player.

Less impressive was the first item, Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration. It’s a work that seems to lack a little of the distinctiveness of his later tone poems. There was little wrong with the London Philharmonic’s playing which achieved an admirable blend and silken sheen, but Kazushi Ono resisted shaping much of the music, leaving episodes such as the protagonist’s recollection of lost youth sounding rigid and robbing the transfiguration music of its transformative pull. There were fine solos, particularly from oboe and flute, but this performance struggled to shake off the feeling of routine.

Happily, the same quality of orchestral sound was matched with an altogether greater sense of purpose in glittering extracts from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. The whispering strings of the First Suite’s introduction impressed as much as the numerous wind and brass solos; the unfolding ‘Dawn’ of the Second Suite and its concluding feverish dance felt suitably integrated into the whole. This was a thrilling performance of one of music’s ravishing treasures.

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