Lise Davidsen in resplendent form with The Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States Bach, Wagner, Mahler: Lise Davidsen (soprano), The Met Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor). Carnegie Hall, New York, 1.2.2024. (RP)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Met Orchestra © Chris Lee

Bach Fuga (2. Ricercata) a 6 voci for Orchestra (from Musical Offering) (orch. Webern)
Wagner Wesendonck Lieder
Mahler – Symphony No.5

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Met Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall for a sold-out concert with soprano Lise Davidsen as the star attraction. Or perhaps she was just one of two, considering the audience’s response to the thrilling performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that concluded the program.

The first work was Webern’s Fuga, his reimagining of the six-part ‘Ricercata’ from Bach’s Musical Offering. Bach did not specify the instruments to be used in performing this seminal work, but the massive forces employed by Webern definitely went beyond anything the Baroque master could have envisioned.

Webern’s genius is revealed in the clarity and transparency he achieved in his transformation of Bach’s music, as well as his employment of an innovative technique known as Klangfarbenmelodie. In the latter, a melody, at times only a few notes of it, is passed from one instrument to another.

It came as no surprise that The Met Orchestra played the Webern with sensitivity and attention to detail. Under Nézet-Séguin’s baton, the solo passages emerged seamlessly from the shimmering, ever-changing, luminescent carpet of orchestral sound. Each note was set to perfection, resulting in a serenely beautiful and calming musical interlude.

There was a similar sense of reserve from both soloist and conductor in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. Nézet-Séguin revels in letting an orchestra rip, and Davidsen has a voice that can effortlessly ride the crest of a wave of orchestral sound at any volume. Such expansiveness, however, was not the approach of either artist in this deeply rewarding performance of Wagner’s ‘paean to transformative and forbidden love’.

Davidsen’s singing in ‘Der Engel’ reached its apex as her voice floated effortlessly while singing of angels floating down from heaven to soothe a troubled soul. The orchestral postlude that concludes the song glowed with rapture. In ‘Im Triebhaus’, Davidsen sang with a sensuality matched by the playing of principal violist Milan Milisavljević.

‘Schmerzen’, the fourth of the five songs in the cycle, was the first in which Davidsen hinted at the size and splendor of her voice. Yet here too, she and Nézet-Séguin took an organic approach to every incremental increase in volume and the gradual ratcheting up of the turbulent emotions contained in the song.

In ‘Träume’, the final song in the cycle, soprano and orchestra combined passion with serenity to depict dreams that suddenly appear and quickly fade away. Davidsen’s languorous phrases, which she spun so effortlessly, were a wonder.

Lise Davidsen (soprano) at Carnegie Hall © Chris Lee

Caution was left outside the door with Davidsen’s rapturous account of her only encore, ‘Dich, teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser. For a singer with such a phenomenal voice, Davidsen is a particularly sensitive artist. Even at this relatively early stage of her career, she has mastered the art of modulating her voice to serve both the music and the space in which she is singing. In this jubilant aria, her glorious sound resounded throughout Carnegie Hall, with its fabled acoustics caressing her voice just as it has for so many other great singers.

The final work on the program was the Mahler symphony. The size of the orchestra for which he wrote it was not so very different than what Webern called for in his orchestration of the Bach. Where Webern favored transparency and control, however, Mahler leaned into magnificent outbursts of sound overflowing with emotion.

From the trumpet solo, so splendidly played by principal David Krauss, to the concluding orchestral effusion of triumph and laughter, Nézet-Séguin led a magnificent performance of Mahler’s revolutionary work. There was real Schwung from the strings in the first movement, while in the second, the violins played with such urgency it seemed as if they were tugging the sound from their instruments rather than bowing.

The brass were glorious throughout. Principal hornist Brad Gemeinhardt played flawlessly in the Scherzo, and Sasha Romero, principal trombonist, was likewise afforded a solo bow. The Adagietto began so softly one sensed vibration and not sound.

Polyphony was at the heart of this concert. With Webern’s orchestration of the Fuga, the connection was obvious due to the work that inspired it. Mahler’s experimentation with the form grew from his submersion in Bach’s works at the time he was working on the Fifth Symphony. Performing both pieces in a single concert was an imaginative stroke of programming that connected the centuries.

Rick Perdian

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