A glorious night for Strauss, sung and bowed
October 27, 2010
In all of music, few moments can
match the unearthly beauty in our ears, the shiver in our skins, the
catch in our throats, when we hear Richard Strauss’s “Befreit,” a song
of impending loss, when it is sung as sensitively as it was by soprano
Linda Poetschke at the apex of an Olmos Ensemble concert, Oct. 26.
And of those few comparably beautiful moments, an unseemly number also
came from Strauss. Example: The ecstatic “Morgen,” which followed
“Befreit” in Poetschke’s set of three Strauss songs.
Strauss called himself “a first-class second-rate composer,” and honest
assessment would have to agree that he does not occupy the same plane
of profundity or organicity as a Bach, a Mozart, a Beethoven, a Brahms.
But Strauss possessed two great gifts as a composer of vocal music. One
was his ability to mold harmony to convey intense, shifting emotions --
and even conflicting emotions, simultaneously.
Another was his habit of setting a text in a way that made the singer a
full collaborator in the creative process. Too, his method of working
closely with singers such as Lotte Lehman and Elisabeth Schumann
established a tradition that has been passed down to the present and
that is as much a part of the composition as the printed score. It is
always the case that music lives in the performance, not on the page,
but Strauss demands that his singers carry a heavier interpretive
burden than other composers do. Great singers have responded with great
Poetsche, of course, rose to the
occasion, too, with the sumptuous support of pianist Warren Jones. She
opened with “Wiegenlied,” the lullaby that is one of Strauss’s
best-known songs, which she delivered with touching simplicity and
“Befreit”(“Freed”) carried the familial theme into darker territory. In
the poem by Richard Dehmel, a husband speaks to his dying wife: “We
both know it will be very soon; we have freed each other from sorrow.”
(Lotte Lehman relayed the story, attributed to a close friend of
Dehmel’s, that he he wrote it upon the death of his own wife.) With its
weave of love, sadness and joy, this is surely one of the greatest of
all songs, and the tenderness Poetschke brought to it was something to
cherish. The naturalness of her rhythm, the way she matched vocal color
to the sense of the text, her glorious sustained high G-sharp on
“weinen” (“weeping”) near the end, the unshakeable faith she brought to
the words “O Glück!” (“O joy!) that end each stanza ... well, what
can one say?
In “Morgen” (“Tomorrow”), to a poem by John Henry Mackay, lovers
who are apart hope to be reunited. (It was one of a set of songs that
Strauss gave to his wife as a wedding present.) Both Poetschke and
Jones caressed the musical line as if it were a lover’s body, and they
chose a tempo that seemed almost to make time stand still, but the
phrasing was always full of life.
Strauss also was represented by
his Violin Sonata, composed in the late 1880s, about a decade before
the three songs. The music is highly eventful and dramatic, still
showing traces of the influence of Brahms but also anticipating some of
Strauss’s own mature style.
It was given a terrific performance -- fearless, energetic, vividly
colored -- by violinist Matthew Zerweck (one of the brightest gems on
the San Antonio Symphony’s roster) and Jones.
Poetschke, aided by Zerweck and Jones, opened the concert with the aria
“L’amerò, sarò constante” from Mozart’s “Il Re Pastore.”
The singer’s bright but warm and satiny instrument seemed ideally
suited to this music.
Oboist (and Olmos artistic director) Mark Ackerman played with lovely
tone in Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for oboe and piano, but he
seemed less attuned to Schumann’s breadth and intensity than was