I think I have been to more Mahler within the past twelvemonth than I had previously heard live, ever. There was a bone-shaking 8th Symphony with Gergiev and the Mariinsky; Colin Davis, Bostridge, and Röschmann with Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Thomas Hampson singing the Kindertotenlieder (not blogged, but an intelligent, sympathetic, searingly direct performance); and James Levine and the Met orchestra with Das Lied von der Erde in what was, even for them, superlative form. And today, I ventured out for a concert of the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble with songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the 4th Symphony. I am glad to have gone, and very glad to have discovered the NYSAE. And I must and will praise the audience, who coughed discreetly between movements and applauded only after the conductor lowered his baton (yes! truly!) In fact, I may have been The Bad Audience Member; my concert-going companion told me that I fidgeted noticeably in the second half. Sorry. I would offer to make penance, but I think I've already been punished enough by the auditorium's seats.
Are you sensing a "but" coming, Gentle Readers? Let it begin this sentence: "But where were the sex and death?" Conductor Timothy Hutto seemed to have good rapport with the orchestra, which played, on the whole, quite competently. There were some technical issues with the horns, I think, which sounded muddy to me; and the warm, humid hall was certainly doing the strings no favors. I had forgotten how charming the poem for the soprano (here Danya Katok) in the last movement is; but it is also dark and bloody in the second stanza, and cheerfully sensual elsewhere, and anything but tame.
The first half of the concert featured the Wunderhorn selections: "Nicht wiedersehen!", "Ablösung im Sommer," "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt," and "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen." I liked Christopher DeVage's warm baritone, and he sang the first selection with moving melancholy. What I missed was the moment of shock brought on by the vicious twist in the narrative. The final duet was sung with tenderness; but it seemed remarkably chaste. I wanted more wildness. I wanted more sensuality. What about death, desire, and madness? This is Mahler: shouldn't he always be at least a little dangerous?