|Madelyn Wanner, mezzo-soprano|
Saturday, November 23, 2013 Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, Bowie, MD
Charles Ellis, conductor – Madelyn Wanner, mezzo-soprano
Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite
Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer
Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551
Last night's concert by the Prince George's County Philharmonic consisted of three works, two of which are on my personal top ten list, Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Mozart's great final symphony, the Jupiter. That is not to slight by any means, the early work of the great conductor-composer Gustav Mahler.
The concert featured an absolutely wonderful artist, Madelyn Wanner. Her musical abilities were showcased by the low-voiced orchestral song cycle, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen of Mahler. Known in English as the 'Songs of a Wayfarer', this setting of four texts by the composer often reminds me of the German Sturm und Drang movement so well captured in literature by Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). This is to say that Mahler can be both 'classical' heavy and exhilarating at the same time. Mezzo-soprano Madelyn Wanner who has performed in scenes from Hansel and Gretel with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra rose to the challenge with her moving renditions of the four movements' texts.
Her performance was supported and highlighted by the orchestra creating an exciting ensemble performance. Ms. Wanner's voice shone forth supported by the orchestra, and at times became one with the Philharmonic when the scoring demanded it. I still can hear the moment in the second movement when the soloist first joined the instruments. At that instance, I thought there was an entire choir present, so well did her great controlled and yet expansive voice and the orchestra’s musicianship blend in seamlessly. The magical effect which at once demonstrated the high level of technical musicianship and artistry of Ms. Wanner and the Philharmonic was, in no small part, due to Mahler's extraordinary command of orchestration.
The skilled partnership of the orchestra and Ms. Wanner, for me, was extraordinary. I know this piece of music as a pianist, and am aware of how easily the complex sonorities of the instrumental parts could become only an accompaniment rather than a true ensemble performance. That both the orchestra and Ms. Wanner could soar musically together once more shows the unquestioned musicianship and artistic command of the conductor, Mr. Ellis.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Mozart and one of the pinnacles of western music, Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551. The Philharmonic literally pulled out all the stops - when it came to the brass section. When my knowledge of the score called for ringing sonorities, the brass section met all expectations. There were moments, throughout when I personally would have liked a little tempering, but this was minor and a matter of interpretation, for the brass and the conductor were one last night.
I also took notice of the string section from the very start of the concert. Having reviewed now for several seasons, I can now say the strings have some alive. They are a section of the orchestra that can hold its own even when their colleagues in the brass are sounding brilliant, the new improved string section is a delight. Now at last the clarion calls of the brass section have met their match and formed a partnership with the strings.
This is in no way to leave out the woodwinds, the mainstay and backbone of the Prince George's County Philharmonic since I have begun attending. Effortlessly, the oboe sings, the clarinets, flutes and bassoons brilliantly rise like comets across the musical sky when composers call for their almost human voices in solo parts. Last night also showed the technical proficiencies and masteries of the unsung heroes of any orchestra - the percussion section that 'quietly' drives the whole ensemble along.
I do note that there were a few entry challenges in the first movement, second theme, of the Mozart, but this in no way detracted from the overall effect. The second movement was sublime, the third appropriately anticipatory and the final movement with its great double fugue an outstanding, vibrant and moving finale to the night. It is hard to believe that this was the Philharmonic's premiere of the great symphony; it should not be the last.
And so I arrive at the first piece on the program. I am particularly fond of this work, for I once learned the piano and violin arrangement of the suite, and while doing so as part of a music theory class, spent a semester understanding how Stravinsky pulled it off. As a composer I am still trying 30 years later to understand the genius of this piece of music. I say this because while the individual sections and solo performances met for the most part critical examination, in other words they met my personal expectations and bias, something was missing. I did not hear the thrill that still is with me even when I sit down alone and play through parts of the score. The performance did not hang together for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on. Yes there were a few metric missteps, but not enough to cause me to assign these technical challenges. Mr. Ellis' tempos were what I expected so that was not the problem. The soul of the piece was missing. Perhaps that is because I am too close to the music, for the audience was so enamored they started clapping right after the end of the very first movement. My sense is that the audience thought this a brilliantly performed start to an even more spectacular evening.
As I say after each performance, the Prince George's Philharmonic is hidden gem in a crown of hidden-in -plain-sight resources in Prince George's County. The performance last night was well attended, but there are 900,000 residents in Prince George's most of whom missed this chance to hear and enjoy yet another brilliant concert right here in Prince George's County.
From the Prince George's Philharmonic by permission: "QuarterNotes" News and Events of the Prince George's Philharmonic for November 2013
Guest Artist Interview with Madelyn Wanner
by Susan Pearl
Quarter Notes: Thank you, Ms. Wanner, for taking the time to talk to me. We very much look forward to performing the Mahler "Songs of a Wayfarer" with you at our November 23 concert. Could you start by telling a little bit about your background and training?
Madelyn Wanner: I did my undergraduate work in vocal performance at Peabody in Baltimore, and then completed my Master of Arts degree at the University of Maryland School of Music where I studied with mezzo-soprano Delores Ziegler.
QN: Are you from the Baltimore area?
MW: No, I come from the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area - from a town, New Holland, which has the second oldest concert band in the United States! I used to play the flute in that band, but now I occasionally go back to New Holland to sing patriotic music with them.
QN: That sounds like great fun! But I suspect that most of your singing is not with concert bands.
MW: That's right. I enjoy singing opera, and have recently performed in Die Fledermaus, Carmen, and La Clemenza de Tito. I think it is important to sing both opera and art songs, and I am glad to be doing these Mahler songs.
QN: And how did you make connections with our Maestro Ellis and the Prince George's Philharmonic?
MW: When Maestro Ellis was planning this season, and looking for a mezzo, he asked my teacher, Delores Ziegler, and she recommended me. [Delores Ziegler sang the Beethoven Ninth Symphony with the Prince George's Philharmonic in April 2005.] I've been out of school only a few years, and I am very happy to be performing with the Philharmonic.
QN: And we are delighted to be performing with you, and especially doing the Mahler! Just last spring we performed Mahler's First Symphony, in which Mahler used some of the themes from these songs, so for us it is a wonderful return to this exquisite music. Please tell us some of your experience with these Mahler songs, and your feelings about them.
MW: They are indeed wonderful songs! I sang the first two songs when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate. My teacher at the time told me that life experience is needed to really perform these pieces. At the time I was most concerned with figuring out how to sing, so I didn't give her comment too much thought. When I started preparing them again for this concert, I finally understood what she meant. It has been interesting for me to look at these pieces from a new perspective. They are amazing songs, and I am excited to be performing them!
QN: And we very much look forward to performing them with you on November 23. Thank you so much!