Monday, October 17, 2016

Catherine Wyn-Rogers in a wonderful Das Lied von der Erde

Robert Dean Smith, Josep Pons, Catherine
To the Festival Hall last night since my beloved sister had told me that wonderful Catherine Wyn-Rogers had stepped in at the last minute to sing Das Lied von der Erde in place of Matthias Goerne who was indisposed.

This is another masterpiece that I had never heard, and Catherine is one of the world's great Mezzos especially in a concert setting where the words matter. She was indeed amazing!

The first half consisted of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The orchestra was the Philharmonia under the baton of Josep Pons - who I hadn't heard before and who imparts a very Spanish flair to his conducting. He brought out a great many tones and features I had not previously noticed, but then I was only 4 rows from the front and I'm not conscious of having heard this piece so up close and personal before.

Then the amazing Mahler. The first song (Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde) was from the tenor, a fine Wagnerian tenor called Robert Dean Smith born in Kansas who has sung title roles in Bayreuth. The famous refrain Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod very much sets the tone.  Then Catherine came on with her wonderful blend of vocal beauty and really entering into the words. Der Einsame im Herbst captured perfectly the loneliness of Autumn.  The tenor gave us Von der Jugend which is a song about a porcelain scene - relating I think to the willow pattern. And then Catherine the somewhat ethereal ballad Von der Schönheit of young girls picking flowers who are disturbed by passing horsemen.

The tenor returns for another drinking song Der Trunkene im Frühling ("The Drunkard in Spring") which is based on Li Bai's famous poem Waking from drunkenness on a Spring Day. (I'm fairly sure I've translated some Li Bai but I'll have to go back and look to see what).  Then Catherine had the haunting final song "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell") where the singer is both narrator, waiting for her friend who finally comes to part forever and "wander homeward, to my abode!" concluding in the plaintive "Ewig .. Ewig." As Julian Johnson says in the programme notes this song "is obviously a meditation on death, but it is less an enactment of dying than a rethinking of how to live". At the end "Still moving, and utterly still, the music does indeed resound forever".

Mahler died shortly before the first performance. Webern wrote to his friend Berg, urging him to attend, that  it was going to be "Something so heavenly, the like of which has never been heard of."

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