Wagner, Mahler (and Brahms)

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday September 26 2014

Philippe Herreweghe, Conductor. Ann Hallenberg, Mezzo Soprano. Orchestre des Champs Elysées.
  • Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, prelude to act III
  • Mahler: Kindertotenlieder
  • Brahms: symphony N°4.
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For reasons I could have done without, I have a special interest in Ann Hallenberg's Mahler. Earlier this year, on account of work, I had to cancel a trip to Berlin to hear her sing Das Lied von der Erde. The Abschied I missed appeared shortly after on internet, the very day deep tragedy struck, and listening to it (many times) helped me cope. Naturally, when I saw she would be singing the Kindertotenlieder in Paris this month, I booked.

Mahler
Ann Hallenberg has fretted on line that she may not be “the kind of singer the audience wants to hear in Mahler”. She is, of course, wrong to worry. Her Mahler is as anyone who knows her singing would expect: impeccably tuned for a start, perfectly phrased and intelligently nuanced, sincerely expressed, without histrionics. Her dynamic range is wide, without affecting her excellent diction, and her timbre runs from liquid bronze to raw silk.

Her concern that “my and Maestro Herreweghe's non-sentimental interpretation will be too... untraditional” may have been better founded. His is a vibrato-free zone, his orchestra is not the VPO, and Ann Hallenberg is better-known for Baroque and Rossini (not absolutely "unsentimental" perhaps, but different kinds of sentiment), so there may well be traditionalists who are upset by it. But the result is not only more transparent; it is drier and sparer than usual, and only makes the songs more uncompromisingly bleak – surely a legitimate approach, though not a comfortable one.

The songs were preceded (without a break or applause) by a snatch of Wagner and followed, after the interval, by the Brahms. But I bought my tickets to hear Ann Hallenberg sing Mahler, and by then, not convinced I needed drier, sparer Brahms, was on my way to dinner with ravening friends.

(In May I published a link to that Berlin performance of Der Abschied.)

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