Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished)
Das Lied von der Erde
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) & Richard Margison (tenor)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette
Reviewed: 23 October, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
In Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, Bernard Haitink held a tight rein on extremes of dynamics, articulation and jarring ritardandos. There was, though, one exaggeration in dynamics that was unusually effective: the first movement’s ‘big theme’ in the cellos was played more quietly than usual, under a gentle if louder wind accompaniment. The second movement was taken at a more leisurely tempo than is common, with the movement’s lyrical elements dovetailing nicely with more forcefully articulated accompaniment; one particular detail that impressed was the chordal blocks of wind accompaniment to the second figure of the main theme, which took on a warmer, more glowing sound than one usually hears.
Before Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (The Song of the Earth) it was announced that Richard Margison – himself replacing an indisposed Robert Gambill – had a cold, the audience asked for a degree of understanding. Margison did hold back on volume during the first couple of minutes of ‘Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde’, but then kicked in the power – in fact, he sounded far more fit than a number of tenors in top health, bringing a stronger than usual foreboding and castigation to the text. He brought tangible wistfulness and regret to ‘Von der Jugend’ and refreshing, rough-hewn devil-may-care lustiness to ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’. Avery Fisher Hall is not the most welcoming venue for voices, but Margison had little problem being heard – and maintained remarkable dynamic control despite his cold.
Christianne Stotijn has a lighter voice than what one has come to expect from a mezzo in this work. There were admittedly a few moments in ‘Der Einsame in Herbst’ at which she was nearly overwhelmed by the orchestra – but both she and Haitink adjusted quickly. Her singing conjured some uncharacteristic emotional imagery – there were moments where one could picture the Marschallin (“Der Rosenkavalier”) as the protagonist in ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’, and an atypically un-Mahlerian sensuality pervaded ‘Von der Schönheit’ and ‘Der Abschied’ conveyed a heightened sense of dramatic monologue, ending with an unusually restless longing for “ewig…”.
Haitink drew impressive playing from the London Symphony Orchestra, providing not only sensitive accompaniment for the singers but remarkable music-making in the many passages of orchestral writing. Instrumental colors were vivid but not glaring, balances and textures were as transparent as any I have heard in Mahler, and the string sound – ranging from round and lush to bright (but not glaring) and forceful – was as good as any heard in Avery Fisher. Haitink brought an unusually dark feel to ‘Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde’ and ‘Der Einsame in Herbst’, heightening the former’s ominous quality, the latter’s sense of loss, and brought unexpected moments of sunshine and lightness to ‘Von der Jugend’, ‘Von der Schönheit’ and ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’ – the last sounding at times more like a ‘Wunderhorn’ song than late Mahler. ‘Der Abschied’ was a marvel of contrasts and shifting moods – Haitink conjured sounds that brought the text’s sense of lamentation and loss into rough-hewn relief, and a sense of peace and serenity in the beautifully played and sung final section.