This was an unusual and interesting concert, featuring two excellent clarinetists,principals of the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestras.
Luisi Crosses Border To American Territory
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI, New York Times
During the last couple of seasons, audiences in New York have had ample opportunities to get to know the work of Fabio Luisi, the Metropolitan Opera’s principal conductor, who has been taking over most of the performances the ailing James Levine has had to withdraw from. But on Sunday afternoon Mr. Luisi, conducting the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, revealed another dimension to his artistry. Who would have expected this Italian maestro to be so at home conducting Copland’s jazzy Clarinet Concerto, let alone an aria from “Wuthering Heights,” the only opera by Bernard Herrmann, of “Psycho” fame?
This unusual program, planned by Mr. Levine, featured Renée Fleming singing Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and three American opera arias by Herrmann and Barber. When it was announced in December that Mr. Levine was withdrawing from all performances at the Met through the 2012-13 season, Ms. Fleming asked Mr. Luisi if he wanted to change the program. But Mr. Luisi was game, and he proved himself in all of the American repertory, especially the Copland concerto.
Of course with the brilliant young Anthony McGill, a principal clarinetist at the Met, as soloist, the performance was a sure thing. Copland described this 18-minute score, completed in 1948, as a kind of portrait of Benny Goodman, who commissioned it. In the wistful first section, the clarinet plays dreamy musings against the cool, contemplative backdrop of the orchestra, scored for just strings, harp and piano. Mr. McGill captured the music’s lacy lyricism, playing with a rich yet beautifully focused sound.
Then comes a transitional clarinet cadenza that evolves into scurrying riffs and runs. Playing with technical command and a teasing character, Mr. McGill was so spontaneous you might have thought he was improvising. He was just as dazzling in the jazzy final section. Mr. Luisi seemed in his element too, drawing nice spiky tones from the violins during a jaunty section in which the high strings match the clarinet’s piercing lines.
The program began with the clarinetist Stephen Williamson in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. Formerly a principal at the Met, Mr. Williamson became principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony last year, one of Riccardo Muti’s first appointments as music director. Joining his past colleagues, Mr. Williamson gave a stylish and energetic account of this subtly complex piece, written in the last months of Mozart’s life.
After the Mozart, Ms. Fleming, in lovely voice, sang the Rückert-Lieder. Some Mahlerites might prefer a more autumnal, vocally dark approach, especially in the bleakly beautiful “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”). With her creamy sound and finespun phrasing, Ms. Fleming brought out the music’s resignation and tenderness. She gave a sensitively restrained performance of the first song, “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft” (“I breathed a gentle fragrance”). The playful quality she drew from “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” (“Look not into my songs”) recalled the chatty exchanges of Strauss’s worldly Marschallin, one of Ms. Fleming’s signature roles. Her Mahler lacked only some crispness in German diction.
After intermission Ms. Fleming’s impassioned performance of “Give me some music” from Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” had me thinking that a revival of this disparaged opera might be in order. She was also good, anguished yet cagey, in “Do not utter a word” from Barber’s “Vanessa.” And the little-known Herrmann aria, “I have dreamt,” harmonically plush and ethereal music in which the heroine laments her confinement at Wuthering Heights, was captivating in this vibrant performance.
For an encore Ms. Fleming sang the “I can smell the sea air” from André Previn’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” with Mr. Luisi conducting as if Previn style came naturally. Who would have thought?’
Two suggestions, This would be wonderful, to own the recording, if there is one. And the other is to keep practicing.
stay well, sherman