The Loud Family
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
Gustav Mahler: Rückert-Lieder
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major
Elīna Garanca (Mezzo-Soprano)
The MET Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Music Director Designate and Conductor)
E. Garanca (© Karina Schwarz/Deutsche Grammophon)
“For Mahler’s second year, the Philharmonic decided that it had better drop the Beethoven and historical cycles.”
Philharmonic, Howard Shanet
One of the Rückert-Lieder is a frozen depiction of a memory, so delicate in its construction that it appears to be almost a double haiku (Rückert was a professor of Oriental literature). The corresponding song, Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft, was written as another love song to Alma and is usually dismissed as the weakest of the lot. Actually it is a brilliant contrast of two images of a lime twig being presented as a fragrant token of infatuation. The poem is in two stanzas. The first describes the memory of a past tryst:
Von lieber Hand
(“a gift received from loving hand"”)
while the second expresses the present overwhelming sensation of the aroma of limes and love (Rückert seems to have anticipated the theory that déjà vu is actually triggered by olfactory impulses). The fulcrum of the piece is the changing of one little word. The first stanza ends:
Wie lieblich war der Lindenduft
While the second begins:
Wie lieblich ist der Lindenduft (both italics mine)
Not only has the tense changed from past to present, but the space between the two stanzas has taken on the role of a synapse and the entire poem is framed as a physical description of a wonderful memory. Mahler imbued his expressions of passion for Alma with a deep intellectual content, befitting her own nature and character.
Elīna Garanca seemed to work her craft expertly in the first two songs in this cycle, but was hardly audible over the crashing waves of the orchestra. Remember the Loud family? They were the originators of the television “reality” show back in 1971. Well, their spirits seemed to haunt the Carnegie stage this evening as no note of Mahler or Bruckner was left to occupy the ether without a fortissimo instruction. Thus Ms. Garanca was forced to employ her own armamentarium as the cycle ran itself out not with a whimper but a bang.
After being subsumed by the instrumental in the first two songs – including a direct assault on the most delicate piece described above – she joined the fray and began to sing louder herself. The battle was joined in the third song, Um Mitternacht, when the mezzo countered the excessive drown outs by sacrificing her note accuracy for additional volume. After this epic battle (one hundred against one) she settled in for a lovely and poignant last two of the airs, but the damage had been done. The crowd loved it all!
Bruckner was Mahler’s teacher at university (the student from the provinces rejected Brahms as a mentor) and every phrase in the younger composer’s oeuvre reflects that fateful decision (for better or worse one can only speculate). I have a theory that might explain this ensemble and their conductor striving to enunciate every note with so much volume. This band performs nightly underground, unseen but not unheard in a pit of anonymity. They need to ratchet up their game in order to be appreciated and to be competitive with those pesky singers on stage. Now above ground they are still enunciating at a surrealistically high volume. Commencing at such a high decibel level they had literally no place to go. The opening Allegro moderato suffered greatly.
Things improved as the Bruckner progressed. Once the ensemble reached the Scherzo they and their listeners were well adjusted to this devastatingly high volume. This third movement was astonishingly well-performed except for the horns who were understandably all “blown out” by this ordeal. So there were a couple of embarrassing flubs, but overall this was the best (and really the only justifiable) rendition of a Brucknerian movement to be experienced this evening. By the conclusion of this rather immature performance my ears were ringing, but as I fled the auditorium I could not help but notice that the sold-out crowd loved this rather sophomoric performance.