Zum Konzert am 17. März 1967 in New York

New York Times, 18. März 1967

Bernstein Leads Mahler ‘Das Lied’

Fischer-Dieskau Sings Role of Contralto as on Disk

Although not the rarity it used to be a performance of Mahler’s "Das Lied von der Erde" is still an event. Yesterday afternoon, the work turned up in a New York Philharmonic concert in Philharmonic Hall, and the occasion had several added points of interest.

Leonard Bernstein, who conducted, had recently made a remarkable recording of the score with the Vienna Philharmonic. As with the recording, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the baritone soloist, replacing the customary contralto. Jess Thomas was the tenor soloist, making his debut with the orchestra.

The performance was a brilliant one, perhaps too brilliant. Mahler’s setting of German paraphrases of Chinese poems is complex and extraordinary, and Mr. Bernstein and the orchestra saw to it that the infinite number of details in the score came through clearly.

In the process, however, the details were sometimes too sharply etched. This may have been merely an acoustical problem – the work has a multitude of small phrases that begin with sforzando accents, for example, and these were often too loud. There were other places where the performance had a restlessness and drive at odds with the music’s mood – of the buoyancy of the third movement or of the world-weariness of the finale.

What the interpretation and playing needed was some relaxation with its attendant warmth, and these may come in the repetitions of the concert tonight and Monday night. Also, the reservations about the performance must be seen in perspective, because the brilliance was real and admirable.

Mr. Thomas’s singing of the solos was excellent. The American tenor has a voice heroic enough to ride the orchestra in the first movement, and Mr. Bernstein did not hold back the volume a bit. He could also attack high notes softly, where it was called for, rounding out phrases smoothly. Only here and there was the voice not quite supple enough for quick, delicate passages.

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was perfection. The German baritone apparently can do no wrong – it gets tiresome, almost, to praise his artistry. But the beauty of his singing and of his poetic feeling for music and words in combination was in evidence again. To him fell the sadder portions of the work, and he communicated moods that were extraordinarily moving.

As a companion to the Mahler, Mr. Bernstein chose another Austrian work to open the program. This was Haydn’s Symphony No. 87 in A, as classical in form and attitude as the Mahler is hyper-romantic.

It is also fascinating in the fresh and arresting development of its material within a set framework. It was an excellent choice to balance the Mahler. Mr. Bernstein conducted it with affectionate care, in which there was some fussiness, and the orchestra generally played it well.

Raymond Ericson

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