Sunday, January 27, 2013

Latvian Day at the Vienna Philharmonic

In art as in science there is no delight without the detail...

(V. Nabokov,
from the Translator's Introduction to
Eugene Onegin)

The curious coincidence of a concert by the great orchestra unusually featuring two superlative Latvian musicians was good reason to travel to Salzburg on a recent Saturday morning for a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in the venerable Grosses Festspielhaus.

The program

The the theme of the program on this summer day was summer itself:

ANTON WEBERN - Im Sommerwind

HECTOR BERLIOZ - Les Nuits d'été

JOHANNES BRAHMS - Symphonie Nr. 2 D-Dur op. 73

The Webern is a tone poem about summer, written in his pre-12-tone days, the Berlioz songs are summer songs, and while the Brahms symphony is not explicitly about summer (Brahms didn't do themes) it was written in the summer resort of Poertschach on the Woerthersee in Austria and as you can hear in this fragment from the third movement of the symphony has a delightful light summer feeling.

The artists

The orchestra was conducted on this day by the eminent Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons. The highlight of the concert, however, was the appearance the beautiful and immensely likable Latvian mezzo-soprano, Elīna Garanča, doing the Berlioz songs. Recordings of Garanca's performance of the Berlioz songs, recorded on August 24, 2008, the day after the performance I attended are, fortunately, available on YouTube at this link. In a match the piece "La Spectre da la Rose," one of the six songs in the Berlioz cycle, Garanca wore a beautiful silk gown with a print of pale, dusty roses on a cream-colored background. A witty touch.

Garanca video

And this from Norma

The reviews: from "breathless ecstacy" to "unueberbietbares Wohlbefinden"

Two rave reviews of the Berlioz performance are amusing in the way that the one is done in the style of enthusiastic American excess and the other in the style of pedantic Austrian obscurantism.

"Ms. Garanča sang with smoky, sultry, sensuous tones. She seemed to enjoy every phrase, and every French syllable. Technically, she was very, very secure...I myself think the
final song, "L'île inconnue," should have some breathless ecstasy. Ms.
Garanča made it unfold like a beautiful, plush carpet."

Jay Nordlinger, NEW YORK SUN

?Wenn Elina Garancèas "La Spectre de la rose" sich entfalten
lässt, mit geradezu unendlichem Atem, samtig und voller Bouquet! "Dieser zarte Duft ist meine Seele" – das glaubt man ihr aufs Wort. Leicht spannt diese Sängerin die Melodiebögen, die sich wie selbstverständlich entfalten. Auch da haben die Philharmoniker und Jansons alles getan, um unüberbietbares Wohlbefinden auszulösen.

Reinhard Kriechbaum, WIENER ZEITUNG

The floral print silk gown worn by Elina displayed pale, dusty red roses on a light cream-colored background, a print pattern which, though beautiful in her gown, is commonly seen in other fabrics and settings, including, oddly enough, the floral print on the sofas in the living room of my daughter's house in California.


Not surprisingly, given the 11 a.m. Saturday morning time of the concert, the orchestra members looked a bit sleepy and rumpled, as though they had no time that morning to groom themselves or press their black coat and striped trouser uniforms. The orchestra is evidently better heard up close but seen from a distance.