Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Königin im Liederreich: Anne Sofie von Otter

I must begin this post with an apology, Gentle Readers: I was not the ideal audience member for Anne Sofie von Otter's Saturday night recital.  I thought I was prepared: I was in a good humor, well- but not overfed, and feeling prepared to be attentive and discerning.  I was bowled over.  So inadequate, indeed, was my own reception, that I debated long about blogging this at all; but, confound it, I paid a real-people price for a good ticket because I decided that I couldn't forgive myself for not going to this recital, and I went, and I listened, and I was moved, and I'm going to record it.  Badly.  This was the video, found on Carnegie Hall's website, that contributed significantly to my decision.  If this gorgeous, charming woman had taken ages putting together a recital, it would be positively discourteous not to go.  And what might I be missing if I did?

Well.  The first part of the program was composed of Swedish and German lieder, and the fragility and intensity of youthful passion was exquisitely communicated.  Not only Grieg and Sibelius were represented, but also Wilhelm Peterson-Berger and Wilhelm Stenhammar.  Peterson-Berger's "Som stjärnorna på Himmelen" was perhaps my favorite, a passionately detailed extolling of the beloved, and a passionately intense mourning.  (I know, I have a singular attraction to morbid Romanticism.  Sorry.)  From Sibelius she gave "To Evening," "Narcissus," "Ye Sisters, Ye Brothers," and "Astray," and I swooned through it all.  And then Brahms, and R. Strauss.  More swooning.  Both of the Strauss lieder, "Die Nacht," and "Nichts," were new to me, and both exquisite.

After the intermission, she gave five songs from Mr. Mehldau's cycle, Love Songs.  Some of the texts, by American poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) were a bit too--I'm not sure heteronormative is quite the word I'm looking for--too "Little Woman"ish for my taste.  But von Otter sang them all with precise and passionate conviction, and "Because" was so beautifully done that I forgave it its masculine/feminine gender stereotypes.  The last two selections in the cycle, "Dreams," and "Did You Never Know," were receiving their premiere, and were, I think, my favorites.  (They're all on the von Otter/Mehldau album which may be my next saved-up-pennies CD purchase.  Here von Otter speaks about the program and her collaboration with Brad Mehldau.)  After Love Songs, von Otter gave us "selections to be announced from the stage."  Having preserved perfect silence throughout the evening, she addressed us, and I understood for the first time those somewhat brainless young men in Shakespeare who say things like "O speak again, bright angel!"  (I know, I'm gushing; I told you it was going to be a bad review.)

The first song was Chanson de Maxence from Michel Legrand's Les Demoiselles de Rochefort; then Jacques Brel's Chanson des vieux amants.  The latter was introduced as encapsulating all the mix of feelings from a long relationship: "There are good feelings," fluting upwards, "and bad feelings!" lowering her voice to what was, for most of the audience, comic effect; I caught my breath.  More gravi from the mezzo, please!  Speaking of sultrily low-voiced women, the next item was Joni Mitchell's Marcie. Then more Michel Legrand, with "What are you doing the rest of your life?"  (This was the one that I spent an hour or so listening to on repeat after I got home.)  Lightening the mood, she gave us "Walking my baby back home" in Swedish ("In Stockholm," said Ms. von Otter, "where the nights never get really dark and you can stop and kiss as often as you like!"  Whew.)  Then she sang Jobim's "Insensatez," in Portuguese and English.  And I, Gentle Readers, completely lost it.  All my handkerchiefs were in the laundry (this, I admit, was bad planning) and I sat there and tried desperately not to snuffle (few things interrupt a moment of musical sublimity like snuffling) and wept until I had tears running down my chin.  It's a good thing I don't own mascara.  She closed out the recital with "Blackbird," which I believe is one of The Beatles' great moments of communicating universal truths.  And she did.

The audience in Zankel Hall applauded heartily and persistently, and Ms. von Otter gave an encore of Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance," which she delivered as charmingly as Fred Astaire (no tap dancing, though.)  Either before or after that first encore, she came out to acknowledge the applause with another bow, and returned... but then she returned again, and after consultation with Mr. Mehldau ("Are you sure?" he mouthed; she nodded) we got a second encore.  She stepped over to the music stand and smiled.  "Why waste all that time walking in and out...?"  Laughter.  Applause.  Then she sang one of the songs which I knew so early that it shaped my romantic consciousness without me realizing it: Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Something Good," from Sound of Music. And we applauded more, and she gave us one more bow, and then we all staggered home.  Well, some may have walked.  I staggered.  I was staggered.  I am staggered.  I shall be about to have been... you get the idea.  (I realize that I have hardly mentioned composer/pianist Brad Mehldau.  I was profoundly impressed by his ability and his musicianship, and what seemed a perfectly amiable personality.  He was just, um, slightly overshadowed in my consciousness by the diva, who, by the way, was dressed Royally, cf. Definitely the Opera's codification of Anne Sofie von Otter's wardrobe.)


  1. Ohhhh this sounds good. She's always been an amazing lieder singer. It's happening in three weeks in Vienna but I can't go, alas...

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  3. Ooh, you caught the Otteritis! Welcome to the fold!

    This is on Friday here, and I'm thinking of spending most of Friday in the espresso cafe at the Royal Conservatory in hope that she would turn up. Not that I'd have any courage to say anything if she did, mind.

    About the Sara Teasdale songs... From what I could hear, they are BORING. They're all the same. But it gives her pleasure, it'll give the audience pleasure too.

  4. PS: Here's another What Are You Doing for you:

  5. @Zerbinetta Alas! I know that von Otter as amazing lieder singer is hardly news, but I was unprepared for the intensity of the experience!

    @Samual I think this was automatically-generated bot spam based on my mention of a notary.

    @DTO It's good to know there's a name for it (and a fold.) Time in espresso cafes I count well spent even without potential for singer-sightings. My own terror when encountering singers is, to my shame, so exaggerated that it could practically be a comic blog post, and may be, one day. Yeah, I wasn't thrilled by the Teasdale poems, but she and Mehldau gave them their best. "Dreams" was my favorite; I'll be interested to hear what you make of them live! Sadly the video link didn't play for me and I couldn't figure out enough Swedish to figure out why.

  6. Glad to hear it was fabulous. Uttered a sigh as I passed by Zankel doors on my way up to "Nixon". But I have two of her Sestos locked in memory, so can't complain.

  7. Luce, just refresh it a couple of times until it works.

    S! Both Mozart's and Handel's Sesto? May I scream now?

  8. @dto, Mozart x 2, 1997 & 2005, every note was made of awesome.

    Handel's would've been a nice addition, though :-)

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZKBhMcIh1w


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