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Dallapiccola, Wagner, Elliott Carter and J. Strauss: Grazia Doronzio (soprano), Kate Lindsey (mezzo-soprano), James Levine (conductor), The MET Chamber Ensemble, Zankel Hall 11.1.2009 (BH)

The MET Chamber Ensemble
James Levine, Artistic Director and Conductor
Grazia Doronzio, Soprano
Kate Lindsey, Mezzo-Soprano

Dallapiccola: Tre poemi for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra (1949)
Dallapiccola: Commiato for Soprano and Ensemble (1972)
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll (1870)
Elliott Carter: In the Distances of Sleep (2006)
J. Strauss: "Rosen aus dem Süden," Op. 388 (arr. Schoenberg, 1921
J. Strauss: "Kaiserwalzer," Op. 437 (arr. Schoenberg, 1924

Immediately following these two extraordinary Dallapiccola works James Levine did with the MET Chamber Ensemble, I could have left Zankel Hall happily satisfied; it was that kind of an afternoon.  But then I would have missed equally memorable performances of Wagner, Elliott Carter and Johann Strauss.  And where on earth did Levine find two singers able to navigate this difficult music with such facility? 

Grazia Doronzio opened the program with Dallapiccola's stunning Tre Poemi, so wisely plucked from obscurity, with texts by James Joyce, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Manuel Machado.  Doronzio's discreet stature gives no clue to the large voice lurking within, nor her impressively solid tone or her utter assurance.  Her perfect decrescendo at the very end, on the word "morir" ("die") capped a performance that probably made Dallapiccola converts on the spot.  Commiato, the composer's last work, uses brief words drawn from Brunetto Latini (c. 1220-1294).  It enjoyed the same scrupulous attention to words and music, the singer completely secure in pitch and phrasing.

Given the number of times Levine has led the Ring, one might expect that he'd know Wagner's Siegfried Idyll intimately, and here he pulled out one of those performances that will be recalled for a very long time.  With warmth and immaculate ensemble precision, the MET players created magic with a piece that is clearly very close to Levine's heart.  David Chan, the orchestra's concertmaster, led the group with astonishing sensitivity, maintained to the very end.  As the ovation began, Levine walked off stage gazing off as if love-struck, clearly moved.

Elliott Carter's In the Distances of Sleep (2006) sounds more alluring with each encounter.  Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey made Wallace Stevens's texts spring to life, whether in the violent and mercurial "Puella Parvula," or the sprightly, twinkling "Metamorphosis."  The third song, "Re-Statement of Romance" for strings and voice, might have been the most impressive of all, with Lindsey commanding superb pitch exactitude and diction.

The program ended with two Johann Strauss waltzes: "Rosen aus dem Süden" and "Kaiserwalzer," each arranged by Arnold Schoenberg.  In the former, a harmonium lends a sinister air to the ensemble of four strings and piano.  In the latter, some well-placed pizzicatos add a certain insouciance.  It was hard not to smile, and I wonder if Strauss would have been pleased, having his sweet confections doused with just a tiny smidgen of acid.

Bruce Hodges

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