Yesterday I went to hear the first of three concerts in which Sir Colin Davis leads the New York Philharmonic in my beloved Beethoven's rarely performed second symphony, and Des Knaben Wunderhorn with soloists Ian Bostridge and Dorothea Röschmann. I had heard neither piece live before. Feeling more than usually incompetent, faced with an attempt to describe a symphonic performance (hence the self-deprecation in the title,) I'll keep this brief and hopefully coherent. Under Davis (surprisingly spry in appearance!) the NYPhil sounded warm and played with vivacious responsiveness. The Beethoven flowed like a conversation, individual parts clear and crisp, forming an elegant whole where the anticipated resolutions always held something unexpectedly complex. I'm anything but a connoisseur, but I enjoyed the performance thoroughly.
This was not only my first live Wunderhorn, but also my first time hearing Bostridge and Röschmann in person (so many firsts in one evening!) They had good chemistry together and both seemed to feel a strong connection to the music. There was superb work from Davis and the orchestra here, too. Unfortunately, Ian Bostridge will have to be marked alongside Alice Coote as an artist I'm glad to have heard, but must still look forward to hearing in peak form. I had some trouble hearing him at the lower end of his range, especially at the outset, and was surprised and dismayed. He seemed to be fighting a cough, though, and was forced to the discreet use of a handkerchief towards the end of the set. (It is "cold season" in New York: the audience filled the hall with such a symphony of coughing and hacking as I hope never to hear again, by no means limited to the breaks between movements or songs.) Still, Bostridge produced some beautiful tones and haunting phrases, often with an unexpected, incisive emotional twist. More power to him, and good health. Röschmann was a treat. Her voice was radiant and rich, and filled with emotion, and her treatment of the language delighted my German Language Nerd soul. Her characterization of the mother and child in "Das irdische Leben" was a standout in a riveting performance. For more of Sir Colin with the NYPhil, lucky New York area folks can see not only this concert on two more dates, but also, on the 9th-11th, a program including Mozart's 36th symphony and Nikolaj Znaider with Elgar's violin concerto which, according to Jessica Duchen, is an experience not to be missed.