Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Haitink @ Barbican Hall, London

11 October 2009

Despite authoritative conducting by Bernard Haitink and scrupulously detailed playing by the LSO, this performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde failed to catch fire.

This was due to the disappointing soloists who failed to engage with the text and in the case of Christianne Stotijn lacked sufficient vocal presence.

It was the first half of the concert, a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony that proved to be the more exciting of the two halves.

Few would argue that Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde contains some of his most ravishing music. His setting of six poems by Hans Bethge from his anthology of poems The Chinese Flute, based on translations of Chinese texts remain Mahler’s most perfect achievement. The poems tell of an almost painfully intense feeling for the beauty of life on earth and how transient man’s role is in the universe, and Mahler matches the essence of the work with some of the most beautiful and moving music he ever penned.

Bernard Haitink understands this score better than any other living conductor and his experience told in every bar. The opening drinking song ‘Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde’ had exactly the right amount of priapic swagger and throughout he brought out all of Mahler’s evocative orchestration. There was a sense of desolation in the final ‘Der Abschied’ that I’ve never heard before. The rich orchestral tapestry that Haitink wove required golden-voiced thread from the two soloists, but alas this was not to be.

Admittedly Anthony Dean Griffey was replacing tenor Robert Gambill at exceptionally short notice, but he confused declamatory singing with shouting. Christianne Stotijn’s performance was bitterly disappointing, especially as she is usually so involving. She seemed unable to provide the richness of tone that is required and the pathos, beauty and transcendental qualities of ‘Der Abschied’ went for nothing.

There was much to enjoy in the first half however with a luscious, beautifully nuanced performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which found Haitink and the LSO on top form, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the disappointments after the interval.

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