Review: Powerful Mahler, virtuosic Tchaikovsky enliven an Aspen Must Fest weekend

The Aspen Times

By Harvey Steiman

Michelle De Young wasn't even supposed to be on the stage of the Benedict Music Tent on Sunday. Called in because the scheduled mezzo-soprano, Jamie Barton, could not shake a case of laryngitis, there stood De Young before a rapt audience, the outsized Aspen Festival Orchestra whipping up a Mahler storm behind her.

As De Young reached the final stanza of "Abschied" ("Farewell"), the final pages of "Das Lied von der Erde," her rich tone and serene presence cast a magical balm over the fadeout of "Ewig…ewig" ("always…always") against soft, incandescent chords from the orchestra. If you couldn't avoid choking back tears, you weren't alone.

Conductor Patrick Summers, no stranger to matching orchestras to the great singers of the world, brought it all together in this final song of Mahler's hour-long work, written between his eight and ninth symphonies. De Young and tenor Richard Smagur alternated the six songs.

Summers didn't hold back the orchestra for the tenor's songs about debauchery and drunkenness, but the full, rambunctious orchestrations often overwhelmed his hearty tenor. The mezzo's role, to change the tone to something dreamier, let De Young come through with ease and clarity. Overall, the result yielded tremendous excitement.

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