Met Orchestra/James Levine at Carnegie Hall – Second Symphonies by Beethoven & Schumann and Elliott Carter’s Three Illusions – Anna Netrebko sings Dvořák’s Song to the Moon and Richard Strauss’s Cäcilie

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Rusalka, Op.114 – Song to the Moon
Cäcilie, Op.27/2
Three Illusions [Micomicón; Fons Juventatis; More’s Utopia]
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61

Anna Netrebko (soprano)

The MET Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Fred Kirshnit

Reviewed: 8 February, 2015
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

James Levine, conductor of The MET OrchestraElīna Garanča is in town to sing Carmen at the Met and planned to appear with its Orchestra in Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs at Carnegie Hall, just as Renée Fleming did with James Levine in 2002. As it turned out, Garanča cancelled and was replaced on short notice by Anna Netrebko who presented one of Richard Strauss’s most beloved songs in Cäcilie, pairing it with one of her own treasures, Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’, revealing the intense emotions of a female creature desperately wishing to feel human. Netrebko did a wonderful job of expressing the aria’s poignancy and projected her notes with ease. Her voice is exceedingly strong and Levine had no need to quiet his ensemble as much as he did.

Anna NetrebkoPhotograph: Dario AcostaBy contrast, Cäcilie is extremely dramatic and full-bodied, seeming to be a refugee from the opera house. Written as a wedding present for his bride to be, Pauline de Ahna, the setting is suitably refulgent and the orchestration quite daringly experimental (this is the Richard Strauss of Elektra rather than Arabella). Netrebko moved back to a spot within the orchestra. Again she dazzled, so much so that a young woman raced up the aisle with a bouquet of flowers but was stopped in her tracks by security personnel.

Elliott Carter’s Three Illusions (2004) are nods to the literary, specifically ‘Micomicón’ to Don Quixote, ‘Fons Juventatis’ to Roman mythology, and ‘More’s Utopia’ to Thomas More. Levine has a special affinity for this music and has been a tireless advocate for Carter’s thorny works for many years (he conducted the first performance of Three Illusions, in Boston in 2005). Many conductors are billed as expert presenters of new music, but Levine is such a savant.

Of the symphonic works, Beethoven 2 was superb, thrilling and tightly controlled. Levine has been music director at the MET for over 40 years and many of us have noticed how much more exuberant the Orchestra sounds under him. Such a satisfying rendition of this particular Beethoven Symphony is a rare thing indeed. Unfortunately the Schumann reading was not of the same quality. The Scherzo was played at a ridiculously fast pace, a marvel of articulation of Olympian proportions but a gambit that left me cold and the musicians apparently spent. Their fatigue was evident in the Adagio espressivo that was – relatively speaking – somewhat sloppy and left a bad impression as the penultimate movement of an otherwise fine afternoon’s effort.

There were protestors outside of Carnegie Hall whose placards indicated their displeasure with Valery Gergiev. Someone should have informed them that he was not here.

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