Three days after the Münchner Philharmonic’s performance of Das Lied von der Erde with Zubin Mehta, the Symphonieorchester des BR had the same program. Berlin Philharmonic will be playing Das Lied in mid December, but unfortunately the tickets are sold out, so no Berlin trip for me.
The concert started out with a very nice romantic piece by Arnold Schönberg, “Verklärte Nacht”. It is a shame that Riccardo Chailly was sick, and Iliahu Inbal stepped in as replacement. “Verklärte Nacht” is such a great piece to precede Das Lied von der Erde. It foreshadows the bright Tenor who lives in the dream and the melancholy Mezzo who lives in the reality. Of course it would not be ideal if Das Lied is performed by a Baritone. As the piece is originally written for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos, the chamber-like-character is still obvious after being rearranged to string orchestra by Schönberg himself. BR Orchester sounded pretty good although Maestro Inbal’s gestures are not particularly string-friendly. He is clear with his beats, but somehow lack of connection with what the strings are doing. It was a shame to see a conductor who does not trust the BR Orchester that much. Not only his cues were all over the orchestra, with very harsh face and gestures, he was singing so loudly at the orchestra (more like screaming at them).
I am grateful that my teacher told me not to use my index finger to point at anybody in the orchestra. Maestro Inbal pointed at the musicians not only as his cues but also as invitation to the solo instruments for bows after performance. It seemed extremely rude, as if he was saying: “YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU….”.
Das Lied von der Erde is definitely a hard piece to conduct. It is a symphony but with soloists and thus the conductor is not as free as s/he would want to. Compared to the Münchner Philharmonic’s performance three days ago, BR Orchester sounded harsh to me. The sound was cold with a lot of edges. It was probably the conductor’s gestures, as Maestro Inbal looked for precision rather than creating emotion, atmosphere, and tone colors etc.
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) did a fabulous job. She was not flashy but honestly presenting Mahler through her voice and clear diction. Ben Heppner, like Peter Seiffert, has great instrument (of course not as good as Seiffert) but does not pay too much attention to the text. The big structure of each song is there, but Christianne Stotijn and Thomas Hampson (alto/bariton part) had more details than the tenors.
The truth is, a good orchestra needs a good conductor. The winner of this week’s “Mahler Battle” goes to Zubin Mehta!
(Concert on November 24)