The Second Viennese School Gets Another Outing

Schoenberg and Mahler: Chloé Olivia Moore (soprano), Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Dirk Brossé (conductor), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 23.2.2015 (BJ)

Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (arr. Erwin Stein)


Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht has never been exactly my glass of Sekt, but Dirk Brossé drew enough sparkle from its textures in this excellent Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia performance to persuade me that I might have been missing something. The early stages of the piece were sufficiently threatening and mysterious in mood, enhanced by some eloquent contributions from principal violist Ayane Kozasa and her first-chair colleagues in the other string sections. But it was the concluding passage that impressed me most: I cannot recall ever hearing so vivid an evocation in sound of the two people in Richard Dehmel’s poem walking through the high, bright night, with the moon shining benevolently down on them from the upper reaches of the violin section.

After several concerts in the past week that have featured Schoenberg, Berg, and (as arranger of Schoenberg) Webern, another member of the Schoenberg school—his pupil Erwin Stein—came on this Monday evening into the limelight with the performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, played in Stein’s skillful arrangement for 12 instruments. Hearing the work’s teeming motifs without a cushion of large-orchestra strings to soften their effect was illuminating, in two contrary directions: the wit of the music came into clearer focus in this eminently lucid performance, but so did the banality of some of the composer’s ideas. In this half of the program, in addition to concertmaster Miho Saegusa’s adroit switches between a normally tuned violin and the deliberately mis-tuned one that injects a touch of acid into the textures of the scherzo, principal bass Miles B. Davis came most impressively into his own: this is a player equally capable of providing, all by himself, a firm foundation for the whole ensemble, and of rendering more exposed passages with delicately pointed phrasing and clean intonation.

Haeran Hong had originally been announced as the soprano soloist for this concert, but withdrew when her contract with the Metropolitan Opera was extended. This gave an opportunity to the recent Academy of Vocal Arts graduate Chloé Olivia Moore, a dual Canadian and French citizen. I prefer to remember her performance of the finale’s solo part for its later stages: she was by far the most compelling in the last stanza, where she captured the humor of the Saint Ursula passage nicely. Until then her voice had emerged as if through a veil. I am fairly certain that, if this attractive singer can school herself to stand still, to stand up straight, and to refrain from wooing the audience with an alternating repertoire of rapturous smiles and more saturnine expressions of bemused puzzlement, and if she can just concentrate on singing, she will be able to make a much stronger impression with what is certainly a voice of some quality.

Bernard Jacobson

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