Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6 [Original Version]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6
Salome – Final Scene
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Deborah Voigt (soprano)
Reviewed by: Nick Romeo
Reviewed: 17 February, 2008
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
When James Levine and the MET Orchestra venture from the opera pit to the concert stage they seem to feel a fugitive thrill at escaping to a new repertoire and venue. The world of opera is far from imprisoning, but for all its riches, it doesn’t allow musicians a chance to collaborate with the likes of Alfred Brendel.
The concert opened with Webern’s Six Pieces, which he scored for a very large orchestra with great economy. Levine emphasized the chamber quality of the music, which often isolates small and unexpected groupings of instruments and the orchestra played with grace and precision, though the pianissimo sections were marred by a persistent electronic beeping from somewhere in the audience.
The highlight of the first half was Alfred Brendel’s performance of Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto. After 60 years of public performing, Brendel was still nimble and dextrous in rapid passages. But what distinguishes him from the hordes of other technically capable pianists is his capacity to shape phrases and to clarify structure. In his hands, a single note can be an entire sermon, a lesson of unexpected significance. This performance contained many such notes, particularly in the slow movement. Framed by the minor-key tumult of the outer movements, the major-key Larghetto is Mozart at his most divinely simple. Brendel’s playing was a miracle of tonal beauty and melodic eloquence. He is never a dramatic or flashy pianist; all his energies are concentrated on the elucidation of the music. But his restraint and discipline make even familiar repertoire seem newly discovered. As an encore, he played a Beethoven Bagatelle.
Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra began the second half. Unlike Webern’s Six Pieces, Berg’s more expansive music often makes use of the entire orchestra’s sections concurrently. Levine summoned crashing fortissimos and underlined the repeated motifs that give the music its structure, proving his ensemble capable of doing more than just artful accompaniment.
To close was the ‘Final Scene’ of Richard Strauss’s “Salome”. Deborah Voigt had trouble being heard above the orchestra, but her voice was agile and supple as she navigated the virtuosic range of pitch and emotion that concludes the opera. She did her best to look as if she were addressing the severed head of a love object, but without the supporting staging and preceding plot, the dramatic power of the finale was lost and her acting was simply distracting.