Opera Chic wouldn't say that she delayed her return to Milan to catch great Dutch Master Bernard Haitink's Lincoln Center Mahler and Schubert concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, but if that's what it takes for a Milan-bound deferment, so be it. So Milan's gray skies and cashmere will have to wait, while OC lingers in NYC to take in Lincoln Center's Symphonic Masters 3 series, which Bernard Haitink has just inaugurated. In a series of three concerts, Haitink and the LSO tackle five works of Schubert & Mahler, culminating with Mahler's Ninth. For those outside of of the USA (and many European countries where Haitink doesn't tarry), the 80-year-old Dutch maestro created a bit of a frenzy among OC's Italian, symphony-loving friends who begged her to stay in NYC and witness Haitink do his thing.
The Dutch maestro holds court as Principal Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, rounding out a line-up of heavy hitters before him (Kubelik, Solti & Barenboim) and laying the groundwork for Riccardo Muti's tenure beginning for the 2010/11 season, the tasty filling between the Barenboim & Muti sandwich. His almost thirty years of experience as MD of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw adequately shaped his trademark spacious breaths, laden with relaxed paces and pensive reflection, all of which OC heard last night between the precise baton strokes of the maestro.
In all this Mahler Madness, let's not omit the Schubert Symphony No. 5 appetizer. It's a humble, restrained work, written more for Schubert's compendium than for a public venue, and scored without the tones of clarinets, trumpets, or timpani.
Allegro was an elegant, flexible Mozartian exercise that Haitink controlled with a legato-marked restraint, beat in an intimate and unhurried pace. Andante was more rigid, marked with delicate and sustained notes -- slow and thoughtful, a pastoral of reflection. The Menuetto was dramatic, but fell flat against the beauty of the prior movements. The final Allegro boasted a nice, polished snap that flourished mainly in the final measures.
Mahler's Fourth was written while the composer was MD for the Vienna Court Opera -- and by the way, memo to Karajan haters out there, it was Herbie who, for all his human and musical shortcomings, insisted on performing operas in the oroginal language: before Herbie, even giants like Mahler conducted operas translated into German -- and the quaint city left its mark on the composition with a delicate beauty, quaint and unabashedly Viennese. Nor did it detract from the humble work (amazingly pragmatic for such exuberance) to be sketched on holiday in an Austrian spa, which aided in fleshing-out the blooming, idyllic passages. Completed in 1900, within his oeuvre of great symphonies, the fourth is relatively economic (stripped of trombones) and uses a smaller orchestra, where the language alludes directly to the Viennese sensibilities of Haydn and Schubert.
The Fourth breathes an atmosphere of well-being and relaxation wrapped under a blue sky, which Mahler explained as "divinely gay and deeply sad." It's overall leisure, with moments of sadness that seep into the landscape. From the first movement's spasm of sleigh bells, Haitink set his paces, calm and pastoral, but with an earthy weight. Accelerations in tempo gave birth to blossoms of color. Pensive and patient -- Haitink takes his sweet time, because you know he always has one trick up his sleeve to surprise you -- the second movement was equally languid and labored with gorgeous woodwinds hearkening rustic landscapes. The third movement in Haitink's wise reading was an experiment in sustainment, profound and serene -- very Beethovenian.
The stunning, E major coda gave way to the fourth movement's "Das himmlische Leben" (The Heavenly Life), sung by Swedish soprano Miah Persson. Blond & bubbly in a pink & lavender frothy princess gown -- every inch Sophie from her current appearance across the plaza in the MET's Rosenkavalier, even if Opera Chic loved her the most as the aggressive, brash, kicka$$ Susanna in Pappano's and McVicar's Nozze di Figaro, ROH, 2006 -- she sang with a joyful and enthusiastic freshness. A big brava to the soprano for gracing Mahler's 4th on her evening off from the MET stage.
Judged as lighter than the rest of Mahler's oeuvre of symphonic work, his Fourth Symphony is paradoxically complex: Haitink gave a noble, introspective reading of Mahler's work, a tribute to the traumatic life of the composer, marked with death and disappointment, ridicule and misunderstanding and appalling episodes of ejaculatio praecox (not exactly the stuff that Alma's dreams were made of), a Dutch master willing to delve deep into the scary pathos of Mahler. Haitink led the London Symphony Orchestra in a reliable, prudent, vision of Mahler, no one surprised, no one disappointed. But then, since Opera Chic is on the record here as being convinced that Mahler's Ninth and Das Lied Von Der Erde and what remains of the Tenth are so much superior to the rest of Mahler's works that they might as well have been written by someone else, Opera Chic is waiting for the rest of the Haitink world series -- and especially his Ninth and Das Lied.