We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, March 1, 2019


Krista Bennion Feeney, Ying Fang, and Maestro Bernard Labadie

As a long time worshipful fan of soprano Ying Fang, there was no way we were going to miss her performance with the Orchestra of St. Luke's. To discuss her performance of Mozart's concert aria "Non temer, amato bene" without putting it in the context of such a wonderful program would be rather monomaniacal.

Unlike programs that try to put in something for everyone, last night's program at Carnegie Hall stayed firmly in the 18th c., giving us plenty to think about in terms of how the compositional line evolved from Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven. We realized that the line between Classical music and Romantic music was not all that strict and Haydn could actually be thought of as proto-Romantic.

The overture to his 1779 opera L'isola disabitata which opened the program was filled with dramatic shifts in dynamics, tempo and mood. The opera is rarely performed but the overture makes a fine curtain raiser.

His 1772 Symphony No. 45 in the unusual key of F# minor seemed a departure from what we think of as Classical; it is filled with tempestuous moments and a depth of feeling that is somewhat foreign to the period of The Enlightenment with its rationality and symmetry.

The reason it is called "the Farewell symphony" is related to its origins. Anyone who didn't know the story might have been shocked to observe the musicians packing up and walking out, one by one, during the final movement. Even Maestro Labadie abandoned his podium until only two violinists remained to end the symphony on a quiet note.

The origin of this amusing device had to do with Haydn sending a musical message to his employer Prince Nicholas I who expected the musicians to stay on the Esterházy estate and delay their winter vacation to suit his whims. The musicians asked Haydn for some help and his response was to come up with this crazy idea for a symphony. Apparently, Prince Nicholas got the point and let the musicians depart. We had a lot of fun contemplating some present day employment situations that could be handled with such tact and humor!

The young Mozart composed his opera Idomeneo not long after but added the Rondo aria "Non temer, amato bene", sung by Idamante to the captured Princess Ilia, in 1786. The music begins with a simple but affecting melody but grows in power with each iteration. There are long and lovely legato lines giving Ms. Fang an opportunity to sing melismas of astonishing beauty. And there is anger at fate, offering opportunities for vocal fireworks. This would seem to be analogous to a cabaletta. Concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney provided the violin obbligato. It was a stunning duet.

Shortly thereafter, Beethoven composed his Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat Major;  one could hear the influences of Haydn and Mozart while acknowledging Beethoven's special flair for the dramatic. We could not imagine a better performance than the one we heard by Beethoven specialist Jonathan Biss. The work opens with some downward moving arpeggi and a graceful second theme which set the mood for the entrance of the piano. 

Mr. Biss' nimble fingers flew over the keys and his performance was especially riveting when the orchestra fell silent whilst he tore into Beethoven's music. There were other surprises and the Allegro movement ended abruptly. We are not even sure we heard a recapitulation of the opening themes. We also missed the musical "joke" of the piano making an entrance in an "off" key. We would need further study to truly appreciate those subtleties. However no one could miss the shifts into the minor key, a device we always enjoyed in Mozart's operas.

It was a splendid evening and we have nothing but admiration for Maestro Labadie's conducting. He eschews the baton and uses his hands most expressively, eliciting gorgeous performances from his musicians. Bravi tutti!

(c) meche kroop

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