It is likely that the performance given by conductor Fabio Luisi and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra set a new standard that will be unmatched by others anytime soon, because of the profound majesty, shimmering softness, exceptional ensemble, astonishing power and eloquent beauty of their rendition of Mahler’s First Symphony. From Nielsen’s Helios Overture to the Mahler finale – there were moments you could barely breathe because the music was so beautiful!
The Philharmonic Society of Orange County, CA is celebrated yet again for presenting one of the world’s most acclaimed ensembles – and if you weren’t in the Segerstrom Concert Hall on Friday evening March 31st, 2017 – you missed an extraordinary performance, and will have to travel to Denmark to see what the fuss is all about. Well, to hear the orchestra anyway. Orange County’s own Deborah Voigt joined Maestro Luisi and the DNSO in a hauntingly beautiful performance of Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs. Few singers have the depth and breadth of talent to gift us with the full experience of Wagner’s eloquent music – but Deborah Voigt is one of those few. Her interpretation of these five songs reminded again why she is internationally revered as a dramatic soprano. Here, her deft vocal colorations brought bittersweet sentiment and soaring beauty to Der Engel (The Angel). In Stehe Still (Stand Still) Maestro Luisi gave us the urgent underlying force forward of the instruments’ music marking the “Whirring, rushing wheel of time, measure of eternity…” while Miss Voigt’s singing spun gold from the lyrics above the pulsing orchestral accompaniment. The haunting opening phrase of Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse) blooms into a sparkling closing chord promising the opulence of Tristan and Isolde; and with the music’s epilogue we can sense the mist hanging on the leaves’ green edge as the song floats away. A gorgeous orchestral fullness supports Smerzen (Anguish), and the listener can surely feel the anguish conveyed through Miss Voigt’s interpretation. And at last we luxuriated in the final beauty of Traume (Dreams) as the musicians’ slower tempo offered moments of time suspended in a lush canvas of the eternal.
When Mahler wrote his Symphony No.1 in D Major he championed the intricacies and fullness of a symphonic tone poem with fascinating architectural cohesion. This piece can be referred to as one of the most inspiring and spellbinding moments of symphonic composition, and it was our great luck to witness this signature performance by Maestro Luisi and the DNSO. From the very beginning of this performance, as Mahler creates musical pictures of the world awakening to the sounds of nature, complete with a recurring cuckoo’s call, to the final movement which burst forth as a thunderclap jolting us into the brilliance of the symphony’s ideas in rerun – we truly experienced one of the most articulate and exciting performances on record! One might comment that it was the extraordinary ensemble cohesiveness directed by Maestro Luisi’s expressive conducting style that made this a singular performance. Others could say that it was the bravura and expansiveness of sound, contrasted with the sweetness and reverie in the pianissimo textures of the orchestral expositions. Yet others would tell us it was the playfulness of the Laendler style dance, opposed by the curious funeral march and the Frere Jacques folk song in a minor key that taunted our imaginations in the Third Movement. Or at last it might be the achingly beautiful lullaby, so lovingly portrayed in the finale, when contrasted by the joyful blasts exposed with exhilarating majesty that awarded the listener a complete musical banquet. Of course, you realize that I believe it’s all of the above that made this a night to treasure in memory of all that’s beautiful in a concert performance. And the audience wholeheartedly agreed with exuberant, sustained applause and a standing ovation, and was then rewarded by a delightful encore, dramatically introduced by concertmaster Christina Aastrand, the Tango Jalousie by Danish composer Jacob Gade. Thanks Philharmonic Society for bringing us the Danes – we’ll never forget it!