Saturday, January 24, 2015

Soprano Kowalski delivers outstanding “Wesendonck Lieder”

Soprano Christina Kowalski
Soprano Christina Kowalski’s singing of Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder” at the Vancouver Symphony concert this afternoon (Saturday, January 24) was superb. Kowalski sang with grace, power, and a terrific understanding of the arch of each phrase in the five songs. Her top notes were golden and all tones down to the lowest were solid and full of dramatic intensity. She communicated with passionate intensity and impeccable diction (even a non-native German speaker like this reviewer could understand each word). Overall, she gave a luminous interpretation of Wagner’s music.

Kowlaski was supported expertly by the orchestra under its Music Director Salvador Brotons. The orchestral sound was kept in check, which allowed Kowlaski’s voice to soar freely. The elegant cello and oboe in “Der Engel”, the muted horns and the slowly ascending violins in “Im Triebhaus,” and the evocative horn and oboe solos in “Träume” glimmered from within the sonic texture. If the flutes could have been softer at the end of “Im Triebhaus,” then that piece would have sounded even better.

Also on the program, was the Brahms’ Third Symphony, which the orchestra played intelligently and with great spirit. The violins put an impressive verve into their attacks and almost always commanded a unified sound. The lower strings also played with greater unity than I’ve heard in the past. The treacherous horn solo in the third movement was deftly fielded by principal Allan Stromquist. The woodwinds and the brass played with great expression and intensity. Brotons, conducting from memory, urged the orchestra with a huge variety of gestures and expressions. The orchestra wasn’t flawless (for example, there were some intonation problems in the strings in the third movement), but it was an impressive outing that shows how far this orchestra has come.

The concert got off to a sultry, jazzy start with Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.” The percussion battery had a field day with the infectious rumba rhythm, and principal trumpet Bruce Dunn led the trumpets in stirring up the heat. The principal woodwinds laced their solos with care and the strings layered it all with a lush sweep of sound. Under Brotons, all the musicians seemed to be having fun.

Because of it has a wild finish, the Gershwin piece generated a lot of enthusiastic applause, and the Brahms and the Wagner were also well appreciated by the audience. But Kowalski’s performance was the highlight of the concert. Hopefully, she will be back invited to sing again with the orchestra in the near future.

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