Carnegie Hall 2018-19 Season Review: The MET Orchestra & Elina Garanca

Nezet-Seguin Evokes Grandeur and Gaiety for Gripping Concert

By Logan Martell

On Friday, June 14, 2019, The MET Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall for a highly gripping program of Gustav Mahler’s “Ruckert Lieder,” and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

On this evening, the orchestra was joined by mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, lending her interpretative passion to the cycle of songs.

Brief and Beautiful

The first lied, “Look not into my songs,” opened with light running woodwinds, through which Garanca opened with a soft but rich quality of voice. Likening the writing of songs to the honey-making of bees, unseen until they’re finished, the brevity of this first number was sweetened by the almost-skittish tempo at which the words of love were delivered. Following this was “I breathed a gentle fragrance.” The distinctive arpeggios from the celesta quickly bestowed a touch of fleeting, magical charm. Garanca’s delicate delivery of the text was also supported by the horns which joined halfway through the phrase “Von lieber hand.” The closing phrase “Der Liebe linden Duft,” saw Garanca using the ‘i’ vowels to vocally soar with a graceful legato. The conclusion of the flute, followed by the harp and then the celesta, suggested the gentling echo of the narrator’s sensory and emotional delights.

Following these two lovelier number was the languid “At Midnight.” The sorrowful horns made an undercurrent for the flute’s lilting melody, with Garanca bearing a vulnerable, disconsolate physicality as she laid out the stark imagery. The feelings of loneliness, loss, defeat, and more, ended each stanza with the phrase “at midnight,” this central theme being treated with a distant obsession by Garanca. For all that she emotionally heaped on top of this idea, rather than any sense of building, the text came more as an unraveling; this was supported musically by the lower repetition of the earlier horn theme, as well as the flute which glided downward with a plummeting sadness. Her sudden outcry of “Lord!” made for a powerful shift, the brass laying out a regal texture, as she offered up praising repetitions of the phrase “You keep watch…” Garanca’s fervent tones, coupled with the fanfare and rolling harp, redeemed and illuminated the final words “at midnight.”

The next song, “If you love for beauty,” had a lighter, demurring loveliness; the narrator listing all the things in nature which far exceed her own virtues. Garanca’s delivery blossomed at the third line of the first three quatrains: “Love the sun… love the spring… love the mermaid…” The final quatrain featured a sudden and hopeful pianissimo climax with the phrase “Oh yes, do love me!” Bringing these lieder to a close was “I am lost to the world,” which opened with a reflective and searching introduction. The earthy plucking of the basses underscored Garanca’s soaring phrase “That it may well believe I am dead!” Taking a more subdued approach to the middle stanza, she seemed as one speaking their elevated thoughts aloud. The final stanza saw the orchestra’s utter delicacy wonderfully highlighting Garanca’s prayer-like delivery; their swelling led not to any grand climax, but a soft and deeply moving conclusion.

A Discourse in Sound

After the intermission, the remainder of the concert was devoted to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major. This massive, Romantic work holds faithful to conventions such as the four-part sonata form, while drawing upon Bruckner’s experience as an organist and improviser to convey its power and meaning. The Allegro Moderato began with a rising theme from the horn and cello, with the rest of the orchestra melting in to support the hovering melody. The winds shortly after reintroduced this first theme with a fuller texture; as the strings led in building higher and higher, the anticipatory climax instead shifted to a statelier, more Baroque feeling. These musical subversions were not uncommon in the first movement, with later instances employing melodic dissonant shifts in the strings or sudden leaps in dynamic; these devices became like filters for the themes to remerge through. For all the nuance and tension, these orchestral textures were brought to a glorious unity of sound, triumphantly announcing the close of the first movement.

The Wagnerian influence in this second movement was not limited just to Bruckner’s motivic development; it also included the use of the Wagner tuba for the distinctively warm tones that frequently dyed the orchestral texture. The Adagio began with an impressive, solemn bearing, as heard from the tenor tuba’s melody doubled by the viola. The higher strings lavishly introduced a simple melodic idea of a C# which rose a whole step, and then once more by a half-step, to arrive at the tonic E. As the strings built in power, a high G# in the violins came as a jarring cry that was held in place with the rapid repeating figures in the brass and lower strings. The uneven de-escalating measures of the violin were answered with a smoother response from the clarinets. As the strings rose once more, the sounding of a half-diminished chord seemed to imply another abrupt change, but this transition was more gracefully handled as the orchestra flowed back together for another recurrence of the “whole-step, half-step” melodic idea; this particular motif saw expression in turns as it cycled its way through the wind, brass, and string sections, building to a powerful, unified announcement.

The third, scherzo movement, kicked off promptly. The rapid undercurrent of the bass and cellos were circled over by the sharp, repeating violin phrases. The overarching theme of this movement was explored and developed by the rest of the orchestra in magnificent detail, finding powerful and deftly-executed ways to return to the same, almost obsessive, idea. The fourth and final movement started with a lighter tone, the low pizzicato laying out a more contemplative firmament that was taken up by the strings, only to give way to a brighter mood. This movement danced back and forth under Nezet-Seguin’s baton, alternating with a blurring sense of boundary between majesty and whimsy. Amidst these extremes came measures of powerful brass which, despite imposing their gravity, quickly dissipated, transitioning back to more lighthearted material.

Ultimately, this musical tour de force was brought to a thrilling conclusion; after the waves of applause, Nezet-Seguin shared a few words of thanks, both to the audience and orchestra, for what has been the Met Orchestra’s first complete performance of the work.


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