Thursday, March 22, 2012

NSO All Bartok Show (Belated)

Just a quick belated comment on my first encounter with the NSO side of the "Music of Prague/Budapest/Vienna" festival at the Kennedy Center the other week (in my defense, I'm participating in the chorus for this weekend's offering, the Dvorak Stabat Mater...one night left!) Though terribly bitter about missing Goerne/Eschenbach Winterreise the previous Monday, I saw the all-Bartok program on the following Saturday w/ Eschenbach, Goerne and Michelle DeYoung in a concert performance of Bluebeard's castle. (Yes, I skipped Fidelio, because I don't really like it and because the weather was super nice the Thursday I could go. Though reviews like this certainly make me second guess that decision.)
Anyhow. This was a tremendous Bluebeard, driven by Eschenbach's expansive, emotionally exhausting reading and the NSO's searing sound under his baton. Shattering moments of raw power like the "opening of the 5th door" (twitter plot synopsis: Bluebeard takes new wifey Judith home, opens 7 doors, last one are previous murdered wives, she joins 'em. Fin.) replete with trombones in the balcony, will not soon be forgotten. But nor will the delicate, haunting colors found in some of the quiet, dread charged exchanges between Bluebeard and Judith.
Both soloists were very fine. Michelle DeYoung offered a rich characterization for Judith, projecting a heady mixture of fear of, as well as passion for Bluebeard, via a notably sweet ringing sound. Matthias Goerne played off her burbling enthusiasm with an unflinching portrayal that left no doubt he should be first in line if they ever do an opera of Sling Blade. I've only ever heard Goerne live in big symphonic settings, and it always leaves me wishing I could hear a recital already. While dramatically fascinating, there's no denying that the smoky color which makes his lieder so uniquely exquisite just doesn't scale as well as voices that with more cutting edges. But he was nonetheless riveting.
Before the half we got Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin" suite, which I heard the NSO do this last year or the year before sometime. Again, this fascinating work, which perfectly captures a certain cinematic sound world of the early 20th century, proved itself an ideal showpiece for the orchestra. The NSO could do a very fun show featuring this and other early 20th century works for the stage and screen by major composers.
One final note--many of the otherwise positive reviews of this concert made the now routine complaint that Eschenbach let's the orchestra swamp his singers in big moments. I'm starting to feel like maybe this isn't so much a "balance problem" as Eschenbach just actually not giving a shit. Clearly, people are free to disagree with his choices, but just to be clear, it seems to be not so much a case of carelessness as the fact that sometimes he feels the orchestra's "fff" shouldn't be hindered by the relatively puny volume limits of the soloist.

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