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Renee Fleming's "Vienna: Windows To Modernity" At Carnegie Hall, Saturday, May 4th, 2013 Reviewed

In 2009, Elvis Costello interviewed the great American lyric Soprano Renee Fleming for his TV show “Spectacle”. She was pushing an album of mainstream pop songs, Arcade Fire far away from her Mozart to Johann Strauss. Fleming presented herself as a modern pop music lover, an everygirl born with the gift of a voice. A figure of modernity if not, indeed, post modernity, straddling the worlds of classical and pop music.

At the finale of her “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall, Fleming presented herself as a Romanticist delving into modernism by performing songs and music from the Austrian Fin de Siecle era, the late 1800s (Brahms died in 1897) to the German Invasion of Austra in 1938 . Imagine Brooklyn in 2008 only the real deal and you have an idea. It begins with the death of Brahms and ends with Richard Strauss playing tennis with George Gershwin in Hollywood and Fleming was out host for an evening of music that moved the world away from Romance to Modern.

Whether performing with just piano and also with a string quartet. Fleming is a very expressive singer and she performed the entire evening without the use of a microphone. In song after song, men laid dead and in song after song, Fleming expressed the composers at the end of the centuries extreme nihilism and dread. Songs like Strauss’ ” In The Greenhouse” were but a mutation away from the “degenerate” cabaret of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Galathea”. And all of it was going in the Vienna of the Blue Danube to the Vienna under the jackboot of the Nazi’s and on to America and Hollywood.

Renee brings these songs to life with stunning control and pianist Jeremy Denk is a perfect foil never more so than when taking a solo on Brahms “Intermezzo In A. Minor Opp 118 1 & 2”. But Renee is even better on Anton Webern’s “tweets” -very very short compositions “Three Songs”. And better still with the evening highlight, Karl Weigl’s “Rain Song”, “Pitter patter poor, while your warm indoors.”

But this is the age of Freud and the age where God fell into chaos and disrepair and Weigl was composing “Apocalypse” (not performed) and Schoeneberg was composing “Verklachte Nacht” Op. 4″ and the 26 minute opus was performed stunningly by the Emerson Quartet plus cello and viola. Written for the woman he loved after a walk in the garden during which the lady told him she was pregnant with another man, a man she knew before she met him’s, child. Schoeneberg imagined their love breathing his love of her into the child and making it his. The musicians went rom violins being finger plucked to cello and viola being played in tandem and the violins being violent and distraught and sweet and soothing as the music progressed.

Fleming’s passion for this music is obvious, her passion for music which enjoins one world to another, a changing of the guard, the sound of the sound and the sound of the history. The  great creative outburst in Vienna began with the Jewish population being made full citizens with the right to vote and ended with Nazi Germany encamping and destroying them. In the US, Jewish vaudeville met pop music in the form of Berlin and the Gershwin’s and when the Jewish population escaped Europe it joined with jazz and formed an avant garde sound that would evolve into be bop and lead to the folk music of the early 1960s.

That’s why it interests a rock writer but it is not why it is great. Hearing Fleming sing “”Be not afraid, for thou shalt pass and of thy life and thee shall nothing here remain” is the sound of the darkest moments of the soul and the age of nothingness alive again.

Grade: A

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