blogdowntown 89.3 KPCC | Southern California Public Radio

Stay Connected

@blogdowntown on Twitter
blogdowntown on Facebook


Mahler and Countrymen Set the Stage for René Pape, Dudamel and LA Phil

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Monday, January 17, 2011, at 03:41PM
René Pape Lenny's Studio

René Pape

Our street for the performing arts, Grand Avenue, was ablaze this weekend: At Disney Hall, Dudamel’s three LA Philharmonic concerts of Mahler’s 90-minute Ninth Symphony were sold to the wall. (Can you imagine that the one at 11a.m. Friday was jammed with, yes, not only the blue-rinse brigade, aka, retirees, but twenty-somethings-and-up as well?)

And then, across the road on Saturday at the Chandler Pavilion, that suavest of bassos, René Pape, sang a superb recital of Schubert, Wolf and Schuman to an excited audience.

Call it a festival of great Germanic music, attended by a cross cultural, cross-generational section of Angelenos. Arguably, there’s a vast nexus of appreciation here. And it’s growing, courtesy of the the Dudamel juggernaut, even while Disney’s capacity – 2200 seats – does not meet its demand and the Pavilion, with a thousand more seats, easily does.

As for the musical agenda in both houses, there was no discrepancy in sentiment. The last, vast symphony that Mahler finished and the Lieder performed by Pape and his pianist-partner Brian Zeger all dealt in poignancy, loss, innocent joyousness and the memory of it, melancholy, and the awareness that death, though often railed at, is part of life.

But a lone singer, comporting himself in strict recital mode, is an especially hard sell at the un-intimate Pavilion. No worries. Pape, away from his usual opera forum, filled the space with his booming bass voice. He never forced, though – no bloviation, no bluster, no mannerism in his connoisseur program. Yet there was a full range of dynamic expression, gorgeously graded throughout, along with the duly perfect articulation of a Dresden-born artist who has the language wherewithal to penetrate such poetry as Heine’s and Goethe’s, set by master art-song composers and including Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.”

The singer’s formalism, though, in starchy white tie and, at first, puffed-up chest, stood somehow as an old-fashioned barrier and perhaps prevented him from requesting the audience not to applaud until the end of each group. He finally loosened up for the final encore, “Some Enchanted Evening,” his entirely idiomatic English coming as a surprise. He put to shame all those who commonly sing the “South Pacific” show tune, even while forgetting the words, then reading them! This single, easy morsel, though, lent his fans a bounce as they stepped onto Grand Ave.

The devotees of Mahler’s Ninth, however, did not bounce out of Disney. No, those who stood patiently in line on the chance of buying last-minute cancellations knew that this music -- which has been heard here under the baton of none less than Giulini and Karajan -- would offer a window into Dudamel’s own stage of readiness for the master work.

He and the Phil did not disappoint. They capitalized on the Ländler’s brio and sweetness, along with its gently perky swagger and assertion of ideas. There were nasal horns rising up against soft strings, all becoming hills and valleys in contrast. Throughout we heard the orchestra’s fierce engagement, whether in soloists’ slivers of tensile sound or in massed ensembles.

But whether everyone was prepared or not, Dudamel stretched out the exquisite Adagio finale -- a thing of thready resignation to life’s end, to art’s end -- over a full 30 minutes. Perhaps he was striving for what Giulini had found: an otherworldly tension that virtually kept us from breathing until the end. There is every chance he’ll find it in time, judging by the long minute he took to bring his hand down after the last notes faded away. Meanwhile, this was a deeply affecting down-payment.

Donna Perlmutter is an award-winning critic, journalist and author. Formerly the chief music/dance critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she contributes to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.


Tweet This Story || Share on Facebook