Michael Sanderling led the Toronto Symphony in a program of works from the first decade of the twentieth century featuring soprano Simone Osborne. We heard a diverse assortment of musical styles represented even though the works have a few things in common. Let’s set aside Mahler’s 4th Symphony from the second half of the program.
We began with
- “The Dance of the Seven Veils” from Salome by Richard Strauss
- The Song to the moon from Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak
- “Depuis le jour” from Louise by Gustave Charpentier
- The Vilja song from The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar
We heard a seductive dance, a song dreaming of love, “Depuis le jour” (a young girl reflects on her first days in love) and the Vilja song (a sentimental old song concerning love of a spirit of the woods).
Sanderling led a comparatively restrained reading of Salome’s dance, one clearly articulating every sound for the first half of the composition, but gradually building up the pace as though discovering greater levels of passion.
The three vocal pieces (the Lehar piece being an encore) make a nice set. Where the song in Rusalka seems to represent an impossible dream, the Charpentier is a reflection upon the recent achievement of that dream in a young woman’s life, while the Lehar is a sentimental tune meant to look back, as though it were an old folk-song. I found that the orchestral tempo Sanderling gave the Dvorak kept a bit of a lid on its passion, perhaps making Osborne’s reading more polite than it might otherwise have been. Similarly the Charpentier is often done at a moderate tempo. making it more reflective and thoughtful, and as a result perhaps more chaste than what the composer had in mind. In the third item, Osborne fully relaxed into the song, entering fully into the spirit of the song.
After intermission, Sanderling led a fascinating reading of Mahler’s 4th. This is a work that is best illuminated by a conductor willing to make the necessary tempo changes, a piece showing us scenes from childhood, sometimes with wild energy, sometimes with nostalgia and schmaltziness: and Sanderling didn’t disappoint. The TSO responded wonderfully to Sanderling’s choices, opening the first movement gently, building to several break-neck tempi in the first movement, sometimes displaying a playful energy then just as suddenly putting on the brakes. We were treated to several exquisite solos, especially concert-master Jonathan Crow and several of the wind players. The long & dramatic third movement can be done with greater restraint and subtlety than this, which I believe makes the drama ultimately that much more powerful so long as one doesn’t mind making the movement longer; but Sanderling was emphasizing contrasts, bringing forth climaxes from key voices, and making the piece very articulate, very transparent. When we got to the loud climax in the third movement, often spoken of as though the composer is flinging open the gates of heaven, we saw a wonderfully theatrical gesture, as at this moment the stage door opened for Osborne’s solemn entrance, for the final movement.
This is a very different sort of singing from what we experienced in the first half of the program, as the voice must be unforced, gentle, to match the angelic text. Osborne’s charming expression seems ideal for the innocence of the piece, her voice gently floating over the orchestra. Overall Sanderling and the TSO achieved a spectacular rapport.