Thursday, February 24, 2005

Carnegie Hall

In the middle of her career Renée Fleming began to emphasize the Richard Strauss repertoire, and by now she may be considered the reigning queen, especially now that Kiri and Jessye have moved on. In her recital at Carnegie Hall on February 21 she did some Strauss as encores, including my favorite “Wenn du es wuesstest”—or whatever the actual title is—which translates roughly as “If you only knew.” It can be described as a joyous outburst. It was a long and difficult recital, and she ran out of steam right after this and stopped. It certainly wasn’t because of loss of audience interest which reached its screaming peak here.

The Strauss style of singing, characterized by lightness of tone, silky smoothness in the legato and sweetness of phrasing, now permeates all her work.

The trick is to find where your own personal music intersects this piece. In the greatest artists this usually results in a personalization of expression that becomes that singer’s style. The music is different, the technical requirements are different, but the process itself is the same as it is for a pop singer. Billy Holiday made everything her own. Luciano Pavarotti makes everything his own.

And now Renée Fleming may be allowed to enter that company. She has owned Handel certainly. She did by far the most legato “Oh had I Jubal’s lyre” I’ve ever heard. Perhaps anything can benefit from the Strauss legato.

Schumann may be considered a precursor, an essential step in the path to Strauss. But Schumann is ever in danger of turning too sweet, and that occurred occasionally here.

I loved her exquisite presentation of Schumann’s “Mondnacht” with its complete lack of fear of too slow a tempo. I was beginning to think only Italians remembered how to do slow pieces. Breathtaking.

She did an interesting group of early Alban Berg (c. 1905) that she performed as if they were Debussy, giving them a marvelous sophistication. 1905 is after Berg began studying with Schoenberg and before Schoenberg’s breakdown into atonality in 1908.

If I were writing a real review I would have to talk about her gorgeous, glittery pink gown. I would have to mention Rebel, the players for the Purcell and Handel groups. That tall guitar was a theorboe. There was excellent integration between them and the singer. All were moving in the same direction to express her interpretations.

And the pianist's name for the second half was Hartmut Hoell.

She is ready to make the transition to goddess.

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