Friday, February 22, 2008


Both pianist Alfred Brendel and soprano Deborah Voigt got huge ovations at Sunday's Met Orchestra concert. But then, they would have gotten similar ovations whether they performed memorably or awfully: there's a fair bit of sympathy and self-regard in the usual Carnegie Hall reaction. That's not to say, of course, that the performances were awful. But indulge my impertinence a bit longer.

I admit I've not been hugely fond of Brendel, and perhaps lack the sympathy necessary to grasp the spirit of his almost-farewell appearance. But my main reaction was actually befuddlement: why did he choose to play Mozart's K491 of all things, and with this orchestra? For Levine, as you might expect, opened this C-minor concerto with a storm and stress tutti that showed the piece as foretaste of not only Figaro and Magic Flute, but the next year's masterpiece Don Giovanni. And after this intensely dramatic start the soloist offered... well, rumination. The piano part is a calmer, less heaven-storming thing, but Brendel's idea of the piece seemed neither complement, comment, or even contrast to the conductor's, but one narrowly indifferent to it. Surely he'd have been happier with one of the major-key concerti.

As an encore, on the other hand, he offered with great success Beethoven's Op. 33 #4: an almost chaste aural pleasure of the sort given by the opening Webern set.

For Voigt I have much sympathy, not least because I may be the only person who likes her newer voice. The pre-surgery one was fat and rich and luxuriant, but not much for carrying emotion. The new one is sometimes acidic, but the edge not only cuts through orchestras but has an ever-shifting nature that suggests new avenues of character volatility. And yet... Voigt, whatever her appearance, is still herself, and at least at the moment does not seem the right singer to take advantage of her new sonic endowment's plusses. Her Salome on this day was impressive for making its way through Levine's pitless (and pitiless) full-volume orchestra, but lacked any sense of derangement or sexual frenzy; in the matter-of-factness of the character's moral abasement Voigt (particularly in her get-up) made Salome seem a bit like the third troubled Spears sister.

In between the cheers for these soloists was the real treasure of the afternoon: a clear-but-fiery account of Berg's cubist Mahler 9, his Three Pieces Op. 6.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree: the Berg was the best of the entire concert, although all four offerings were pretty marvelous. In his book, Alex Ross comments on the Berg as one of the seminal works of the 20th century, and boy, Levine sure conducted it that way.

    The Webern was also striking, mostly for the arresting quietness of the percussion (e.g., in the fourth movement funeral march).

    And while I agree that Voigt could have characterized just a bit more, now and then she did tilt her head back, with a slightly crazy look.

    All in all, a fantastic afternoon.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.