We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Emanuel Ax and Anne Sofie von Otter onstage at Carnegie Hall
Last night at Carnegie Hall, two of the finest artists of their generation performed an evening of Brahms' music (interrupted by a lengthy work by Nico Muhly commissioned by Carnegie Hall).  It was not until the encores that we got to hear what we wanted to hear.  Highly esteemed mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter with acclaimed collaborative pianist Emanuel Ax made a fine team; what was missing was the feeling of intimacy that Brahms' songs require.  It is not their fault; it is just the size of Stern auditorium.  The number of fans and financial considerations likely dictate the size of the venue and this cannnot be helped.

Ms. Von Otter is on the contained side but during the first encore, "Sapphische Ode" her gestures grew in amplitude and somehow bridged the intimacy gap.  In the second encore she enacted, yes ENACTED! the dialogue between a young woman who has trouble expressing what she wants to her mother who feigns ignorance.  The girl gets increasingly exasperated until her mother realizes the girl wants a man.  So far we are unable to locate the name of this charming song but will supply it in the future.

Brahms oeuvre of lieder is vast and he had an affection for setting folk songs, many of which were heard last night.  We enjoyed "Sommerabend Op.85, No. 1" in which our two artists shared moments of exquisite control of dynamics.  In "Juchhe! Op. 6, No. 4" we heard a joyful side of Brahms that was pure delight.  The heartfelt "Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43, No. 1" has won our admiration time and time again.  In "Ständchen, Op. 106, No. 1", another favorite of ours, the two artists painted a charming picture of three serenaders and their effect on a sleeping maiden.  We observed that when Ms. Von Otter uses her body her voice seems to open up and enfold the audience to a greater extent.

"Nachtwandler, Op. 86, No. 3" had a lovely delicacy; "Am Sonntag Morgen, Op. 49, No. 1" was marked by an impressive range of vocal color as the singer puts on a happy face for the world while suffering within.  There was a lovely rocking feeling in the piano in "Ruhe, Süssliebchen, Op. 33, No. 9".  We recently heard the entire cycle Magelone-Lieder performed by the Brooklyn Art Song Society and were pleased to hear the song again.

Also performed were the Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 which have somewhat less of a gypsy flavor than those of Dvořak.  We most enjoyed "Wisst ihr, wann mein Kindchen" and the rhythmic "Brauner Bursche führt zum Tanze" which was performed with lavish rubato.

Mr. Ax had the opportunity to perform four of Brahm's late-life short pieces, three Intermezzi and a Romanze.  Our favorite was the "Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2" in which we are sure we heard echoes of Mendelssohn's "Ist es wahr".

About Mr. Muhly's "So Many Things", we have little to say.  Our 19th c. ears could not wrap themselves around the 21st c. music and, although certain words could be heard, entire phrases could not be understood and the text was not in the program.

We  felt privileged to be able to witness these artists onstage in spite of the drawback mentioned earlier.  It is unlikely that we would ever have the opportunity to experience them in a more intimate venue.

ⓒ meche kroop

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