While the New York Times is busy pitching Fabio Luisi as James Levine’s successor at the MET (it’s almost too obvious now, I wouldn’t be half surprised if the appointment ended up being someone else), Luisi was in Leizpig adding Mahler with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to his conducting-credentials. Incidentally that put him in direct Mahler-competition with his two former orchestras, the MDR SO and the Dresden Staatskapelle.
Purely on a technical level, it wasn’t too much of a contest; neither Dresden’s performance nor that of the MDR were so watertight that the RCO couldn’t have collectively sleepwalked to a better result. (They didn’t sleepwalk, but a few players might have preferred a leisurely breakfast over playing Das Lied von der Erde the Gewandhaus at 11AM.)
G.Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde,
B.Haitink / Baker, King / RCO
G.Mahler, Totenfeier & Symphony No.2,
R.Chailly / RCO
Unfortunately that was pretty much the end of the glory. Das Lied von der Erde with Anna Larsson and Robert Dean Smith didn’t live up to the promise from before the intermission. This was largely due to Luisi allowing the orchestra to completely drown out the singers at every occasion he got. To his very considerable credit, Dean Smith did not let this tempt him to push his unspectacular but very fine voice—clear and unmannered—through the orchestra. It would only have sounded crude and he wouldn’t have had a chance, anyway. To the extent one heard him sing, there wasn’t much by way of inflection or text-coloring, but diction and pronunciation were exceptional.
Interestingly enough that same did not apply to Mme. Larsson, a model of stylish restraint and taste in her sleek black dress, as tall as Luisi with rostrum. Her voice is, in the low registers, deliciously haunting as ever… but hard—impossible, actually—to understand throughout the other registers, with a strange hollow quality to boot, as if you get the surrounding of a beautiful voice, a halo… but never quite the center. Luisi didn’t seem to care or mind about the voices and was busily engaged in an admittedly very lively accompaniment that completely dominated the affair. Eventually the liveliness faded, too, the energy level became inconsistent and in Der Abschied only musical moments remained, but no arch that carried one through to the end. Larsson’s “Ewig… Ewig!” was lovingly muted but one could only make out “Eeeehhhhh…-something”. I’m willing to assign blame to the hour of the day; AM-Mahler is probably just not a good idea.