By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Christine Brewer was the soloist in Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs in yesterday’s Pasadena
Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium with Michael Stern conducting. Photo
by Ivan Schustak for the Pasadena Symphony.
Normally when you hear that Christine Brewer is going to
appear with an orchestra in Southern California, you’d expect that the ensemble
would be the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Not this year. For the final concert of
its 2011-2012 season, the Pasadena Symphony engaged the well-known American
soprano and had the good sense to ask her to sing one of her signature pieces:
Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs in
two concerts yesterday at Ambassador Auditorium.
Actually, Brewer is better known for her Wagnerian roles
(she was a stellar Isolde in the L.A. Phil’s “Tristan Project” under Esa-Pekka
Salonen several years ago) but these were the 81st and 82nd
times she has performed Strauss’ magnificent look back on his 84 years of
living. She sang them sumptuously yesterday afternoon.
When Strauss wrote the songs, he was looking back to a
musical era — 19th century Romanticism — that had vanished amid the
wreckage of what World War II had done to Germany and, in particular, its
artistic life. Although there’s no evidence that Strauss intended to group the
songs (that was done after his death by his publisher), Strauss used a poem by
Joseph von Eichendorff and three by Hermann Hesse for his evocative texts.
Brewer’s lustrous voice swept over the four songs like a
soothing balm. The opener, Spring, was
bright and the second, September, was
wistful. In Going to Sleep,
Concertmaster Aimee Kreston’s rich solo line was a perfect complement to
Brewer’s singing, and the final song, In
the Twilight, was full of aching melancholy.
The orchestra, under the sure hand of guest conductor
Michael Stern (music director of the Kansas City Symphony), delivered rich,
sumptuous accompaniment for Brewer. Together, it was a memorable performance.
Stern (who by the way, is the son of legendary violinist
Isaac Stern) was subbing for the PSO’s music advisor, James DePreist, who is
recovering from recent heart bypass surgery. Stern kept the original program,
which began with Dawn and Siegfried’s
Rhine Journey from Wagner’s Gtterdmerung,
the sort of music for which Strauss was longing in his Four Last Songs. Stern led a brisk rendition of Engelbert
Humperdinck’s concert version of Wagner’s music, highlighted by James
Thatcher’s horn solos.
After intermission, Stern concluded the program with
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Stern obviously knows this piece well (he conducted
without a score) and offered a distinctive reading of this four-movement work
that Stern, in his preconcert discussion, characterized as another of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. You might not have
fully agreed with Stern’s push-and-pull tempos but the orchestra played
gorgeously and he made me think about what was being played — altogether, not a
bad combination for a very familiar work.
Although the classical season officially ended yesterday,
two free concerts have been added next Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium. At 2
p.m., Jack Taylor will lead his Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra in music by
Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov, Copland and others that will be a preview of the
ensemble’s upcoming European tour. At 7:30 p.m., Donald Brinegar will lead a
new chorus that has been formed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory along with the
Pasadena City College Chamber Singers in music by Britten, John Lennon and Paul
McCartney, Faur and others. Information:
The Pasadena Pops opens at its new home, the Los Angeles
County Arboretum, on June 16 when Marvin Hamlisch leads a concert version of
his own musical, They’re Playing Our
Song, with Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein as soloists. The evening will also
include a tribute to Arnaz’s parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.