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A German Feast

Knight Concert Hall
10/28/2011 -  & October 29*, 2011
Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, op. 28
Richard Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68

Christine Brewer (soprano)
New World Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor)

C. Brewer (Courtesy of Knight Concert Hall)

Interesting program offered by New World Symphony. Two familiar works surround a well-known though not overly performed one. Thank goodness for a fresh opportunity.

I can’t find any evidence that South Florida ever had a performance of Tristan und Isolde. Neither Florida Grand nor Palm Beach Opera have ever performed it; and when the Metropolitan had a national tour, Miami was never one of the stops. So the Wesendonck-Lieder cycle is probably the closest this community has ever come to hearing one of opera greatest and most beloved works. And to have Christine Brewer as the vocalist is something rare. This artist has had an interesting career in that her staged opera performances are few. In 1997 Miami was lucky enough to have had a Don Giovanni in which her Donna Anna was the only redeeming feature. She made a much publicized cancellation at the Met as Brünnhilde in that company’s last cycle of the Otto Schenk Ring which is one of music history’s saddest missed opportunities.

The Wesendonck-Lieder cycle was created at a time when Wagner was wrestling with the start of Tristan und Isolde. The poems of his mistress Mathilde Wesendonck provide the text which does not hint at the libretto. The opera is echoed specifically in two songs: Im Treibhaus is the forerunner to the Act 3 Prelude, and Traüme provides much of spirit for the opera’s second act love duet. Those familiar with Wesendonck on recording might expect to hear a darker sound coming from a mezzo; Christa Ludwig or Stephanie Blythe made popular recordings of this cycle. Brewer’s huge bright sound and incredible sensitivity is something that music lovers will relish. And with a talent like hers, the German language, which is often harsh to a native English speaker, is unusually gentle and beautiful. The first two songs, Der Engel and Stehe still are delivered with a command and intensity that one would expect from a performer of such commitment. Schmerzen is musically such an interesting work in that it sounds nothing like one expects from Wagner. Brewer recognizes this special moment and it is in this short song that she makes her most impressive statement. A truly gifted performer; now if only one of our opera companies would give her the opportunity to do Isolde.

Another impressive performer was Michael Tilson Thomas. On the podium this conductor draws no audience attention to his mannerisms. He is in such command that he lets Strauss, Wagner, and Brahms become the stars and knows that everyone will be the better. His young orchestra is so exciting because they are not yet jaded performers and still get a tremendous charge from tackling the giants. Perhaps there are moments in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 that could use both a little more fire and likewise a little more ice; regardless, it was a memorable evening with many of the orchestra’s soloists making significant contributions.

The program opened with Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. Because this piece is offered so often, it is not easy to make an original statement. But upon a thorough examination it is evident that this is not such an easy work to pull off. The orchestration is very dense and a balance of sound is required to find all of the work’s subtleties. New World Symphony conquered it like seasoned pros.

The schedule of programs by this company is always rather daunting. There is much to anticipate through 2012.

Jeff Haller



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