The Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Bach/Webern & Mahler; Lise Davidsen sings Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder 

Bach, orch. Webern
Musical Offering, BWV1079 – Fuga (Ricercata) a 6 voci

Wesendonck-Lieder [orch. Felix Mottl and the composer]

Symphony No.5 in C-sharp minor

Lise Davidsen (soprano)

The Met Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 February, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

The evening opened with Anton Webern’s ravishing instrumentation of the six-part Ricercata, a fugue from Bach’s Musical Offering. Yannick Nézet-Séguin elicited a coherent, transparently textured account that allowed the piece to sing as the melody line bounced from one part of the ensemble to another, each note colored and textured by the instrument (or group of instruments) it was played on.  

The Met Orchestra’s programs at Carnegie Hall usually include a singer. On this occasion, Lise Davidsen, who delivered a thrilling performance of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, mostly orchestrated by Felix Mottl. The intensely romantic song set employs melodramatic texts written by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of Wagner’s patrons. In the opening ‘Der Engel’ the soprano’s bright and expansive sound, stretching from rich, middle-range to blazingly powerful, immediately drew the listener in and continued to captivate through all five songs, especially the two the composer identified as studies for Tristan und Isolde. Her rendering of ‘Im Treibhaus’ – which uses music heard in the Act Three Prelude – had a telling sense of stillness, with ‘Träume’ (orchestrated by the composer) – echoes of which appear in the Act Two love-duet – displayed a wonderful warmth and intimacy. She filled ‘Stehe still!’ with vibrant and fully focused sound, as she gracefully moved from a stormy start to an ecstatic conclusion, and she released some spectacular high notes in ‘Schmerzen’. Throughout, conductor and orchestra, both well versed in Wagner’s musical language, provided flawless accompaniment. There was an encore, the highlight of the evening: a stunning rendition of Davidsen’s signature aria, ‘Dich, teure Halle’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

In Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Nézet-Séguin’s strong, clear-sighted but deeply felt interpretation drew splendid playing. The opening trumpet fanfarr, brilliantly dispatched by principal David Krauss, was bold without being overly militant, and the dramatically shaped Funeral March managed to be grim but never wearisome. The second movement came off extremely well, with plenty of turbulence, its frenzied highs and lows all effectively realized, and the cellos at the beginning of the development section wonderfully expressive. In the Scherzo, Brad Gemeinhardt stood up as he delivered the obbligato horn part with skillful aplomb. Nézet-Séguin displayed great sensitivity to the mercurial mood shifts, while allowing each episode enough room to breathe. The Adagietto movement was songful and tender, played with shimmering tone at a healthy, flowing tempo. The Finale provided a virtuoso orchestral display, both elegant and exuberant, with Nézet-Séguin conveying bounce and joy to the end.

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