Songs with orchestra – Hat Dich die Liebe berührt; Selige Nacht; Zigeuner; BarcaroleSchubert
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)
Angela Maria Blasi (soprano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette
Reviewed: 28 February, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Zubin Mehta and the venerable Vienna Philharmonic presented an evening of Austrian music that was, alas, infuriatingly uneven.The delicate balance and intricate orchestration of Hugo Wolf’s woefully underplayed Italian Serenade requires a delicate hand, which was nowhere in evidence during the present performance. The overall sound was opaque and poorly balanced in almost constant favor of the strings – a smaller-than-usual contingent of 40 players that played the first half of the evening’s program. There were also some small but unexpected lapses of ensemble – the sort I would never have expected from this orchestra.
The orchestral songs of Joseph Marx are rarely performed. They inhabit the same aesthetic sphere as those of Mahler and Richard Strauss, but the most apt comparison may well be to the music of an Austrian-born composer most well-known for his groundbreaking Hollywood film scores, Erich Wolfgang Korngold — although (to turn the old joke on its head) Marx’s songs lack both the ‘corn’ and the gold, given his songs’ overly-efficient four-bar phrasing and lack of genuinely memorable melodies.
Nevertheless, Angela Maria Blasi made a very strong impression with her fervent, sympathetic singing, particularly in ‘Barcarole’. Balances were greatly improved over the Wolf, though the accompaniment of “Hat Dich die Liebe berührt” did overpower Blasi during a few of the loudest passages.
Mehta and the Philharmonic fared far better n Schubert’s ‘Great C major Symphony. Mehta favored elongated, legato melodic phrasing at many unexpected points in the first movement, which strongly contrasted with the incisively rhythmic accompaniment, to unexpectedly fine effect. The second movement was as satisfying a performance as I have heard, with Mehta and the players imparting a ‘moto perpetuo’ feel to the main theme in each of its iterations; balances and dynamics among instruments and sections were ideal. The rhythmic nuances in the scherzo and tuneful trio were of equally exemplary quality, and Mehta adopted a slightly faster-than-usual tempo for the finale that was neither rushed nor hard-driven.
No Vienna Philharmonic concert is complete without some pieces by Johann Strauss II. Mehta is non-interventionist when it comes to the Philharmonic’s tradition and we were given two of the most-popular rapid-fire works, Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka and Unter Donner und Blitz; announced in English!