How to make the transition from Isolde's Liebestod to the sounds of the New World? Antonello Manacorda, the Gothenburg Symphony and Lisa Larsson show that the most beautiful route from Germany to America is the one via Sweden. The Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde were presented as wisely chosen introduction for the Swedish songs, looming over the listener with impenetrable strength. One felt for Isolde when, at the end, the harp sounds and appears like a final earthly sign speaking to hear; an end that rang with sweet passing despite its tragedy.

Lisa Larsson © Merlijn Doomernik
Lisa Larsson
© Merlijn Doomernik
At the heart of this night lay songs of the Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson, premièred in Zurich in January 2015. Under the title Ich denke dein... (I think of you) Martinsson composed music to poems by Rilke, Goethe and Eichendorff that speak of different perspectives on love and of idyllic descriptions of nature. Together with soprano Lisa Larsson he set those well-known German verses to music in a shape ranging from sweet to programmatic. In the opening Liebeslied (Love Song) by Rilke the strings present a beautiful musical thought, a thought that flashes through his new vocal piece time and again. Like the famous tune of your favourite operetta, this melody remained with the listener long after the concert.

In the following songs, the composer repeatedly makes use of onomatopoeic techniques that are woven into the instrumental as well vocal lines. A particularly empathetic interpretation was presented in Eichendorff's Mondnacht, in which the voice is at times accompanied by a single instrument only. "Es war, als hätt' der Himmel die Erde still geküsst" the melody began in very simple fashion and immediately evoked the unearthly glow of a moonlight night. Larsson gave life to this magnificent natural scene with quiet, very pure voice. Without the use of vibrato and exaggerated dynamics, she effortlessly filled the hall with her brilliant soprano. The resplendent colour of her voice carried easily, yet was never obtrusive  - a musical reflection of the vivid, admiring image in Eichendorff's words: even the most quiet of pianos were full of suspense, her lines always focussed. The sheen of the blossoms, the wide fields and quiet woods made audible in this song may have caused the souls of many in the hall to spread their wings.

As Lisa Larsson sang "her" new Martinsson songs, it wasn't mere performance, but a precisely fitting nestling of the work to her voice. Her considerable contribution to the creation of the songs was obvious in every note, be it breathed, spoken or in brilliantly bright heights. Her perfect, accent-free German allowed a deep insight into the development of music with text, and one forgotten line was immediately excused. Telling the tale of longing in the final song with the words "Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne Schimmer vom Meere strahlt" (I think about you when the sun's shimmer shines from the sea), one could have thought that this song had been especially written for this Gothenburg, full of autumnal light and sea air, in which it was performed. The reaction of the audience and the warm embrace of Larsson and Martinsson had me hope for future collaborations of this Swedish duo.

Rolf Martinsson © Mats Bäcker
Rolf Martinsson
© Mats Bäcker

There is music that, even having heard it hundreds of times, never loses its magic. The musicians on this night proved once again that Antonín Dvořák's Ninth Symphony is one of those works. In the introduction to the great first movement, the earthy quality of the brass and wind became apparent, which gave warmth to the entire symphony. In heated waves the listener was carried through Dvořák's account of this new continent that is full of adventure, but nonetheless evokes yearning thoughts of home. This nostalgic element was particularly expressive in the solos of the cor anglais as again and again the wistful sighs of the instrument made you perk your ears and close your eyes in delight. The strings, too, played their part and wove a construct so delicate that you thought you could rip it with bare hands. And yet you became increasingly caught up in this musical net so that, in the end, you neither could nor wanted to fight it.

Antonello enjoyed every crescendo, every decrescendo, and made the contest of the two a playful drive. When in the final movement the first theme was played again resoundingly in the trombones, however, all seriousness returned and remained constant presence. By highlighting the final piano with reduced tempo, Manacorda made the finale of the symphony even more sensational. A music so full of rousing fire unleashed excitement even in the quiet Swedes: Standing Ovations for Antonello Manacorda and the Gothenburg Symphony.



Translated from German by Hedy Muehleck.

****1