Saturday, January 23, 2010

NSO - Bach, Mozart and Mahler - 01/22/10

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Bach: Suite No 3 "Air on the G String"
Mozart: Symphony No 38 in D Major, K. 504, "Prague"
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde - Christianne Stotijn & Stig Andersen

As the world is trying to bring much-needed aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, benefits of all sorts are springing up. Not to be outdone, the National Symphony Orchestra quickly announced that all the proceeds from last night's performance would go directly to the relief efforts. A last-minute addition of Bach's "Air on the G String" would mark the special occasion, but the program was already very attractive in its original line-up with Mozart's all-around beautiful Prague symphony and Mahler poetry-inspired "Das Lied von der Erde", which was going to be sung by young Dutch mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn and more seasoned Danish tenor Stig Andersen. Our beloved Ivan Fischer was back on the podium, so it almost looked like business as usual, if not for the very moving opening speech by the ambassador of Haiti.

Bach's piece was short, but its ethereal grace delicately rose in the almost-full concert hall, providing yet another hint that we were all there on a special mission. In fact it had such an emotional impact that nobody got around clapping at the end, and maestro Fischer dove right into one of Mozart's best efforts.
Written during the most prolific time of Mozart's life, the Prague symphony displays a brand new level of maturity in the complexity of its composition. Yesterday an authentically reduced orchestra played it with much vivacity and grace, and Ivan Fischer kept everybody in tight check. It was a particularly heart-felt performance and the music predictably enthralled a very eclectic audience. So eclectic, in fact, that the two breaks between the three movements were filled with applause, which the slightly taken aback conductor and musicians graciously, if quickly, acknowledged.
I am a big fan of Mahler's sumptuous symphonies, but his "Song of the Earth" is definitely a different endeavor. Inspired by German poems that were themselves based on classic Chinese poems, each of the five distinct movements concentrate on a particular aspect of life on the earth. Yesterday's performance started with the traditional dark drunken song, and it rapidly became apparent that Stig Andersen had trouble projecting over the orchestra that was playing in full force. This problem would plague him during the entire evening, although a solid voice could be spotted in the calmer moments. Christianne Stotijn was better served by a deep knowledge of her pieces and the generally quieter music she accompanied. Her singing got better as the evening went on and her "Abschied" was lovely, all the way to a truly poignant ending followed by an unusually long suspended silent, bringing an emotionally packed conclusion to an emotionally packed occasion.

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