About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Well Met

New York
Weill Recital Hall
10/08/2000 -  
Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen
Arnold Schoenberg: Serenade
Igor Stravinsky: L’Histoire du soldat

Met Chamber Ensemble
James Levine (conductor)

One of the hottest tickets in town is the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, a chance for this superb performing ensemble to explore the symphonic repertoire. An even hotter find is a ticket to the Met Chamber Ensemble, since these hand-picked soloists present their concerts in the much smaller Weill Recital Hall, a jewel of a room with fabulous appointments and acoustics. James Levine has molded these players in his own image and they consistently present highly intelligent and interesting programming on their one day off from the opera house. Metamorphosen (not to be confused with Metamorphoseon, a strangely similar piece by Ottorino Respighi) is Strauss’ heartfelt farewell to his beloved opulent civilization, written just after the destruction of Dresden and the Vienna Opera House. The piece for 23 strings is written in a lush style and is almost always performed in a full-sized concert hall. Hearing it at Weill, where the players and the corpulent Maestro just barely fit onto the stage, increased exponentially the reverb and interplay between the sections, literally swallowing the listener in tidal waves of sound. This is a sorrowful and low essay, the violins not even making their entrance for the first five minutes as the lower strings bemoan the death of Central European culture. Levine conducted a sensitive performance notable for its dramatic pauses, both within and without the original score.

Arnold Schoenberg’s favorite of his mentor Gustav Mahler’s symphonies was the 7th and he paid homage to its lovely Andante amoroso with his first work for multiple instruments in the dodecaphonic system (strictly speaking, only the vocal fourth movement is “twelve-tone”). This most daring piece of auditory cubism illuminates prismatic refractions of thematic material and plays with them circularly. In fact, the cello, guitar and mandolin being placed in a row at the back of the stage presented an irresistible visual allusion to Picasso’s “Three Musicians”. Levine’s approach to this thorny piece was very lively and surprisingly jazzy as well. An extremely conscientious conductor of Schoenberg, Maestro scheduled five full day rehearsals in September two years ago so that his orchestra could immerse itself in the second Viennese idiom before attempting Moses und Aron the following February. His patience has certainly paid off as his players are now adept at the fluttertounge technique and the complex layering of dotted rhythms that make this type of music so difficult to perform. Oddly, this is Schoenberg’s only true piece of neoclassicism, a movement he would soon mercilessly parody in his choral music.

I grudgingly enjoy the theatre piece that is L’Histoire du soldat with its three-ring style of mixed media. However, the concert suite excerpted by the composer only serves to point out how little music is actually contained in the original. Heard reductively, this sparse score is not so different from the polka he composed for the Ringling brothers’ elephants. But the Met players performed it spiritedly, violinist Nick Eanet amazing in the Devil’s fiddle part (it would be tantalizing to draw a parallel to the second movement of Mahler’s Fourth here, except that Stravinsky learned his anti-Semitism from the “mighty handful” and loathed Mahler’s music). This concert was interesting for presenting both ends of the “thick versus thin” argument, the Strauss so chockablock with emotion, the Schoenberg and Stravinsky so Spartan. All in all a fine afternoon of intellectual music making and well appreciated by the crowd of cognoscenti. It is a special treat to appreciate the genius of Mr. Levine without that great gulf which necessarily exists between orchestra pit and audience at the cavernous Metropolitan. I would much rather hear him at Weill.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com