Thursday, September 17, 2009

Susan Graham Sings Rückert Lieder

MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 1
San Francisco Symphony
Wed, Sep 16, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Michael Tilson Thomas

Susan Graham

Rückert Lieder
    Liebst du um Schönheit
    Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
    Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft
    Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
    Um Mitternacht

Symphony No. 1

I avoided the opera & symphony openings last week, but I seem to be catching up. I was drawn to this program by the chance to hear Susan Graham. She sang the 5 short Rückert Lieder with great dynamic control & an almost casual ease. I liked the pianissimo she achieved in Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen & a moment of teeth-gritting in Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder. The orchestration seemed light for Mahler. Strings were not even used for Um Mitternacht.

Before MTT & Ms. Graham came out, an announcement was made that the Rückert Lieder were being recorded, & a request was made for our silence during the performance. The audience dutifully maintained an exemplary quiet which certainly impressed me.

After intermission, MTT danced on the podium for a fast & loud playing of the Mahler 1. There was a humorous pause after the 1st movement when it looked like the orchestra was going to start without him, & indeed he may never have quite caught up with them. The sections played well together. For the entire concert the 1st & 2nd violins were split & the cellos placed on the inside of the 1st violins. The reason was not apparent. For this program I think I would have preferred the cellos on the outside rather than buried in the orchestra. The audience leapt to its feet for a standing ovation immediately after the noisy finale.

The Symphony generously gave out program inserts containing a code for free iTunes downloads of MTT's Mahler.


Stephen Smoliar said...

Actually, the "light" orchestration for the Rückert poems was probably very deliberate. It was one of the "features" I chose to focus on in my piece
. As to the arrangement of the violins, my own humble opinion is that it made sense; and I am pretty sure MTT has done it for other Mahler performances. When second violin part is so independent from the first that it is easier to hear the dialog when the face each other (letting the lower string speak for themselves).

sfmike said...

Stephen, Mr. Axel is much too polite to say it, so let me do it instead. Whoring out your site on other people's noncommercial blogs, complete with links, is bad form.

Axel Feldheim said...

Gentlemen, please! Now don't make me turn on comment moderation again. That would be such a hassle for everyone.

Gavin Plumley said...

May I add another voice? True, the point about a dialogue between the violins is a good one (though I'm not sure there is so much of that in Mahler 1, as in, say 6, 7, 9 or 10) but it's a relatively modern affectation.

Axel Feldheim said...

I would agree with Mr. Plumley about the split violins for Mahler 1 in particular. I don't feel that MTT made a strong case for this "affectation" on Wednesday night. If anything, it made the orchestra sound higher & brighter. I would have preferred the lower strings to be more forward, especially in the 3rd movement.

Gavin Plumley said...

I will add, however, that placing the cellos in the middle doesn't not bury them, but can enhance their sound... they are literally facing the audience. My least favourite placement is when the strings are arranged (moving from left to right as we and the conductor look at the orchestra) 1st violins, 2nd violins, cellos and violas (with the double basses behind). The violas can suffer in a poor acoustic (like the Royal Albert Hall).

Axel Feldheim said...

Perhaps I was biased by my seat, which was a bit far to the the left, almost behind much of the cello section. I agree that violas on the outside is usually a bad idea. From where I was sitting that evening, it seemed like the violas were facing me. There was an exposed passage for the violas in the last movement, I think, that certainly sounded very clear from my seat.