NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
MARK WIGGLESWORTH/ EDWARD ABRAMS
MILHAUD/ RAVEL/ BERG/ STRAUSS (12-19-09)
COMPELLING VOCAL DRAMA
By Lawrence Budmen
The New World Symphony presented a program of early twentieth century music from Paris and Vienna on December 19, 2009 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA. With the gifted British conductor Mark Wigglesworth in charge of most of the podium duties, the highlight of the evening was Alban Berg's exquisite, too rarely heard Seven Early Songs in a spellbinding performance by Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, an artist of remarkable expressive range and compelling vocal drama. Indeed her achievement was one of the finest musical events witnessed by this critic in 2009.
The young Berg was a prolific composer of art songs. By the time he was in his early twenties and began studying with Arnold Schoenberg (a pivotal moment in his career), Berg had produced some eighty songs. The Seven Early Songs were composed between 1905 and 1908 and then orchestrated as a cycle for a November, 1928 premiere. (By that time Berg had achieved celebrity as a leading avant garde composer and Schoenberg protégé with the first performance of his opera Wozzeck in 1925.) The songs reveal a young composer under the spell of Richard Strauss. Expansive vocal lines, surges of impassioned and haunting song and subtle variations of dynamics are woven into this mercurial cycle. In the final song Summer Days, Berg produced an outburst of poignant lyricism that foretells the elderly Strauss' Four Last Songs. The composer has encased these memorable vocal ruminations in a rich orchestral fabric, the string writing particularly deep and passionate.
Brueggergosman, one of the most distinctive vocalists on the contemporary opera and concert scene, gave an extraordinary reading of these neglected gems. Generous in beauty of tone and intensity of feeling, the soprano exhibited dark, smoky richness of timbre and pure, dulcet high tones that entranced the ear. Her deep emotional penetration made each song come vividly alive as mini vocal drama. Indeed Brueggergosman's performance would be a hard to surpass, vocally or interpretively. A memorable fusion of music and artistry! Wigglesworth is a vastly experienced opera conductor whose resume includes appearances at the English National Opera and New York's Metropolitan Opera. He drew gorgeous string textures from the eager young players and provided a soaring wave of orchestral luminescence beneath Brueggergosman's vocal velvet.
New World conducting fellow Edward Abrams opened the French portion of the program with a snappy, jazz inflected rendition of Darius Milhaud's 1923 ballet score La creation du monde (The Creation of the World), Op.81. A meticulous craftsman, the talented Abrams led an idiomatic performance that captured the jazzy 1920's musical panorama but did not slight the contrasting moments of lyricism and songful repose. The seventeen instrumentalists played superbly with especially dynamic solo piano and saxophone riffs. Written a year before Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Milhaud's score remains a musical landmark. It was a pleasure to encounter such a vital performance.
Wigglesworth emphasized instrumental transparency and magical impressionistic colors in a luminous reading of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. The conductor found the perfect sound for each movement: softly surreal for the opening Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty; light and bright for Tom Thumb; rich extravagance of colors and timbres for Empress of the Pagodas (delivered with bracing orchestral panache); sensuous string hues for Conversations of Beauty and the Beast; and soaring, gorgeous climactic radiance for The Enchanted Garden. Wigglesworth's lucid conducting produced an enchanted performance of a masterpiece taken too easily for granted. The New World musicians played their hearts out, producing a glorious stream of orchestral paintings - musical impressionism at its most intoxicating.
Wigglesworth commanded the lilt and orchestral shimmer of Strauss' Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, Op.59. The Viennese waltzes danced in felicitous syncopation. Wigglesworth understands the trick of that slight hesitation that distinguishes a waltz from Vienna. The Presentation of the Rose music glowed in lush, captivating sounds. Wigglesworth miscalculated some of the climaxes. In the Lincoln Theater's super bright acoustics, fortissimos were overwrought. Also the music of the final trio was rushed, lacking poetry and eloquence. The vivacious playing of the youthful orchestral academy members remained hard to resist. Strauss' poignant backward glance at the era of the Viennese waltz kings proved the perfect holiday musical champagne toast.
New World Symphony members play Martinu's Nonet, Britten's Phantasy Quartet, Rzewski's Moonrise with Memories and Stravinsky's Suite from The Soldier's Tale on January 15, 2010 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA. Violist and Curtis Institute of Music President Roberto Diaz is guest artist for a chamber matinee musicale on January 17 featuring Hindemith's Clarinet Quintet and Trauermusik and Beethoven's Viola Quintet (Storm).
On January 23 Susanna Malkki conducts The Finish Line in the Sounds of the Times series with cello soloist Anssi Karttunen in a program of Saariaho's Notes on Light, Murail's Gondwana and Lindberg's Feria. On February 5 and 6 French conductor Ludovic Morlot leads Berlioz's Les Francs-juges Overture, Stravinsky's Petrouchka and John Adams' Violin Concerto with Jennifer Koh as soloist.
Robert Spano conducts Gershwin's American in Paris, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.3 and Barber's Violin Concerto with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg on February 20 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. For information see www.nws.edu.