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Review: Salonen Displays ‘Exquisite Range’ Leading the MET Orchestra at Carnegie

Esa-Pekka Salonen

By Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer, June 12, 2017

Late spring/early summer is a special time in New York, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra makes great use of this time flexing their symphonic muscles, presenting orchestral works in New York. On June 3rd, romantic favorites Robert Schumann’s Symphony No.3 (the “Rhenish”) and Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde were performed gloriously by the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, led by Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen with soloists mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and tenor Stuart Skelton.

Maestro Salonen’s handling of Schuman’s five movement symphony showed exquisite range, his opening itself was both triumphant and subdued. His conducting style is elegant, one of fluid movement, with emphatic articulation; a careful use of syncopated parts throughout the first movement created an uneasy feeling amongst the upbeat tone of this first movement. The second movement favored brisk tempi at a piano dynamic, laying off of the tempi to allow for a torrent of sound during the finale of the movement. A graceful inquisitiveness permeated throughout the third movement at a moderate tempi.

This symphony is often considered Schumann’s most upbeat symphony, however, it was the solemn fourth movement which really stood out in this performance, stunningly eerie, muted horns collided with strings in an almost macabre contrapunctal fugue. Salonen held his forces together with brilliant dynamic control, very quickly going into spirited finale, holding the final note way above his head.

Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is a set of six orchestral songs based on Chinese poetry, three for tenor and three for mezzo-soprano. Tenor Stuart Skelton essayed his three songs in character, acting and emoting like he was on stage to good effect. Though the three tenor pieces highlight the bombastic qualities of youth, Skelton was most effective in the quieter parts, very lyrical with a lovely bloom in “Von der Jugend”. In his final piece “Der Trunkene im Frühling,” Skelton employed an interesting subito piano, amongst his buyont, ebullient performance.

Mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill’s three songs were different than the tenor’s songs, more subtle and transcendent. Miss Cargill is a wonderful singer, who tastefully covered top notes of phrases, with a beautiful shimmer at a leisurely pace throughout her first two pieces “Die Einsame im Herbst” and “Von der Schönheit.” Her voice did not change in faster passages, and made great use of pauses to emphasize points in “Von der Schönheit.”

Although the work is scored for full-orchestra (including some exotic instruments like the celestia and mandolin), Maestro Salonen accentuated a chamber-like feel to the pieces, especially during long solo sections, creating a sublime effect. In “Die Einsame im Herbst,” the strings played limpidly, almost like a delicate breeze wafting sentiments.

The final song, “Abschied,” began with an almost vindictive opening with double basses sounding the call of fate at a slow tempo. Cargill’s superb piano singing paired well with flutes, and she again used pauses well, allowing for huge lyrical sweeps. When the final theme is revealed towards the end of the first part, Salonen went in a different direction, with a significantly upbeat tempi. During the orchestral interlude in “Abschied,” the Met orchestra re-introduced the opening theme far more menacing and hypnotic, with quick tempi and decisive string work. In the final section, Cargill excellently held tension with her dream-like rendering of the word “sprach.” Although the piece is ultimately about death and transfiguration, Cargill’s whispered her final “ewig” with a smile. Once again, Salonen held his last note above his head, gradually deflating his arms down to end the piece; a wonderful ending to a memorable performance.

 

 

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The MET Orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall on June 3, 2017. Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen; guest soloists: Karen Cargill, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Skelton, tenor.

SCHUMANN Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish”
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde

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Cover: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; photo: Chris Lee.


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