Monday, February 09, 2009

New York Philharmonic – Kurt Mazur, conductor; Anne-Sophie Mutter; Vocal Soloists; Westminster Symphonic Choir. February 7, 2009.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, First Tier Center (Seat CC16, $59)

All-Mendelssohn (1809-47) Program
Overture to Ruy Blas, Op. 95 (1839).
Concerto in E minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64 (1844).
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night), Op. 60 (1830-32, rev. 1844)

First, the specifics. I couldn't put all the soloists' names in the title, so for completeness: Christine Knorren, mezzo-soprano; Jorma Silvasti, tenor; Albert Dohmen, bass-baritone; Thorsten Grumbel, bass; Westminster Symphonic Choir, Joe Miller, director. With regard to the music, the violin concerto consists of three movements played without pause: Allegro molto appassionato; Andante; Allegretto ma non troppo – Allegro molto vivace. The choral piece has many parts:

Overture: Bad Weather (Allegro con fuoco)
The Transition to Spring (Allegro vivace non troppo)
1. Allegro vivace non troppo; Allegro assai vivace (tenor and chorus)
2. Allegretto non troppo (mezzo-soprano and chorus)
3. Andante maestoso (bass-baritone and chorus)
4. Allegro leggier (chorus)
5. Recitative: Allegro moderato (bass and chorus)
6. Allegro molto (chorus)
7. L’istesso tempo – Andante maestoso (bass-baritone and chorus)
8. Allegro non troppo (tenor and chorus)
9. Andante maestoso (bass-baritone and chorus)

We went to the concert together with the Yangs. We first stopped by Jersey City and had noodles at a Vietnamese restaurant: pretty inexpensive fare which Anne found quite enjoyable.

I didn’t realize Mendelssohn was considered a genius on par with Mozart, and that he died at an early age of 37 or so. Equally tragic was that his sister Fanny died while conducting a rehearsal of the “Night” piece played at tonight’s concert.

Mendelssohn, by choice, wrote classical music in the tradition of the masters, and his music is thus quite easy to understand and appreciate (as opposed to, say, Berlioz). Tonight’s selection is no exception. The overture is to a story by Goethe that is rather bleak, although I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell by listening to it. The orchestra was not at its full strength (actually for the entire program tonight), perhaps some people left early to get a head start on their tour next week?

I was surprised at how weak Mutter’s violin sounded. It was as if the instrument was muted. Which is a pity, as Mutter played the piece quite well. She did have some unusual tempos for some passages, which I though was not necessary: there being no need to find new interpretations for the piece. Per Wikipedia, she owns 2 Stradivarius violins, I wonder if she used one of those for tonight?

It is a bit disappointing that the “Night” piece was chosen as the last piece for the evening. I am sure one could have picked a more fulfilling Mendelssohn piece. That it isn’t that popular is attested by the fact that the last time it was played at NY Philharmonic was in 1997, also conducted by Mazur. Nevertheless, it was a reasonable enjoyable piece of music, with lyrics based on another Goethe work. The choir, from Rider College in Princeton, was 120-member strong, and they sang quite well.

Mazur, in his early 80s, looked quite well, except for the shaking in his hands, which we also noticed at the last concert of his we saw.

Overall, an enjoyable concert. I couldn't find a published review of the concert.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Opera Australia – Mozart's The Magic Flute. January 30, 2009.

Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Seat Circle J22 (AUD 140).

Ollivir-Philippe Cuneo – Conductor; Tamino – Andrew Goodwin, Papageno – Warwick Fyfe, Queen of the Night – Emma Pearson, Pamina – Emma Matthews (ill), Monostatos – Kanen Breen, Sarastro – Daniel Sumegi.

Story. See previous blog.

Anne, Tim, Ruth, Alyson and I saw this opera together. All in all, it was a good experience. It is difficult not to compare the performance with the Met, but I thought Opera Australia acquitted itself quite well this time.

I have always found Mozart's comic operas to be just so-so. The Magic Flute is helped by the nice tunes and fancy staging. The Opera House is smaller than the Met, so the experience felt a bit more intimate.

While the staging was not as rapid-fire as the Met's, it had its attractive qualities. The changes from scene to scene were more subtle, so before you realize it the scenary has moved from a forest to a palace. There were lots of acrobats (“Legs on the Wall” per the program leaflet) hanging around, which to me was a bit puzzling. The designers (stage and costume) aren't as obsessed with the number “three” as the Met's, so we were not flooded with that reference. They did pay homage to the free masons by having their logo projected on the screen at times.

The most memorable songs are sung by the Queen of the Night. She has an important aria in each of the two Acts. The one in the second act calls for a high F, which Pearson couldn't quite reach. Otherwise she did a commendable job.

The “regular” Pamina was ill, so a substitute (Quan, I think) filled in for her. She did an admirable job.

The opera was written in German. In this production the songs were sung in German, and the dialog was in English. With their Australian accent (and Chinese in the case of Pamina), the actors were at times difficult to understand. Too bad they didn't provide English subtitles for the dialog.

I am glad I didn't dish out $15 for the program. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The Sydney Morning Herald gave the performance a mixed review.