van Zweden Conducts Wagner and Brahms

Such an interesting juxtaposition of events in the city (and country) these past couple of days: first, the Cubs win the World Series and James Levine makes his long-awaited concert debut at CSO (both cause for much long-awaited jubilation), and then Donald Trump wins the 2016  Presidential Election (not so much jubilation there). And then (coincidentally?) just last night, Jaap van Zweden, incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducted a program of rather dark and somber music: Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, and Brahms’ A German Requiem. The mood at Symphony Center last night was entirely different than that of last week, and it was just interesting to see that same mood shift reflected in recent events.

Anyways, backstage last week, Maestro Levine made a point to say that one of the most tremendous things the he finds about the CSO is its ability to play the most quietest and softest of phrases with such flexibility and color, in which he also said that this is evident of how much the orchestra as a whole has been greatly shaped in recent years (an obvious nod to Maestro Muti :D). This ability of the ensemble was on display again, very prominent in Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan. The Liebestod (“love death”) brings the unfulfilled Prelude (with that famous Tristan chord) to a climactic resolution, and van Zweden/the CSO brought the drama of this opera alive, even though there were no singers. There were however singers in the main piece of the night, Brahms’ German Requiem, with the CSO chorus singing its first performance of the season, and with soloists Michael Nagy (baritone) and Christiane Karg (soprano). It probably wasn’t such a great idea to be listening to the Verdi Requiem earlier in the day (cause the only thing in my head afterwards was the Lacrymosa), but anyways, there is such a striking difference between these two Requiem, and the Mozart one as well (these are the only three I’ve listened to before). My old piano teacher gave me a copy of Britten’s War Requiem a couple of months ago, but it’s an LP and there’s no record player in our house X_X. Anyways, the Brahms Requiem is, of course, filled with the characteristic Romantic melodies that are throughout his four symphonies, his Serenades, and his piano music, but there is also a sense of lieder tradition, especially when the baritone enters for the first time. Nagy was excellent in that regard, and he really played the part too, that is, of one who suffers and longs for some sort of relief or sign from “God” that things will be okay (appropriate for this week I suppose). Karg, who was Susanna in last year’s Le Nozze di Figaro at Lyric, unfortunately didn’t have a long part in the Requiem (Brahms only wrote one section for the soprano) but her small part was probably the best part of the whole performance. Looking forward to hearing her at Lyric for Die Zauberflöte this winter. All said and done, I’m still more of a fan of Mozart’s/Verdi’s Requiem than Brahms – there just wasn’t a hugely transcendent/spiritual feeling from yesterday’s performance (besides the two soloists in my opinion), and I feel like that’s the most important effect any Requiem should have. I’ll have to listen to some other recordings though to get more knowledge of the piece (time to make a trip to the library)!

In other, more happy news, the schedule for the 2017 Salzburg Festival (see their website) came out just yesterday – and Maestro Muti is leading the biggest event of the Festival, a new production of Verdi’s Aida with Anna Netrebko. He’s also conducting concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic, so I think it’s fair to say that he’ll be the center of the Festival (no offense to everyone else though). Seriously, I really believe that he’s the one conductor who’s taken up Karajan’s helm at the Festival – and as someone who wasn’t around to witness Karajan live, it’s super cool to experience that now with Maestro Muti. I just wish more of my friends/family could understand that too (cause they are seriously missing out!).


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