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Fischer Conducts NSO’s All-Wagner Program

Iván Fischer, conductor
Iván Fischer
Last night Principal Conductor Iván Fischer led the National Symphony Orchestra in a persuasive reading of excerpts of Wagner’s operas to a nearly full house at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The prelude to Die Meistersinger opened with a meagerly narrow sound that fortunately unified as the musical tension built through to the work’s end. Ever demanding and clear with a very formal stick technique, Fischer kept the somewhat hesitant orchestra forging ahead. The string and brass sections were the strongest units of the orchestra; however, overall the sections of the orchestra lacked adequate cohesion to play as one body. Fischer’s diligence definitely brings the goal in sight, and it is wonderful to see him back on the podium as his rapport with the orchestra appears to consistently be mutually respectful.

Dawn and Siedgried’s Rhine Jouney from Götterdämmerung conveyed love, fire, water, and darkness. The highly embarrassing horn flubs in the exposed opening were made up for by wandering high-Romantic cello lines that one never wanted to end. The Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde featured constant modulations and multiple climaxes of the piercing upward motif. Soprano Elizabeth Connell's rich voice did not quite consistently soar above the orchestra, leading the orchestra to muzzle their volume and intensity when it was most needed. Wagner’s dragging out of harmonic changes by roving between keys and to fascinating aural territory makes for an ethereal listening experience. However, when large structural harmonic changes do take place, Fischer always made a point of making them known to both orchestra and audience. For example, near the end of the Liebestod, Wagner spends minutes in dominant-function (V) harmonic territory, which the listener may contextualize as dominant only when it later resolves to the Tonic (I) in the coda. For any listeners out there hesitant about Liszt, he uses the same out-of-key small picture, basic harmony big-picture techniques.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, NSO's Wagner: Operatic Treasures Minus the Emotion (Washington Post, October 31)
The second half of the program consisted of Act III, Scene III of Die Walküre, Wotan’s farewell to his “constantly defiant” daughter Brünnhilde with soprano Elizabeth Connell and bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo. Uusitalo (Wotan) took away his daughter’s divine powers with a directly intense tone both stable and always in motion. After accusing her of “blithely following love’s path,” Wotan reminisces that Brünnhilde will be “freer than I, the God.” The audience was fully entranced by the emotional complexity of the scene. Given the length of most Wagner evenings, most in the audience were likely just settling in, and like your reviewer, disappointed that the evening had to end, while thankful that the master programmer Fischer had brought his favorite works to Washington.

This concert repeats this evening and tomorrow night (October 31 and November 1, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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