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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Concert Review: Where Science Has Lease

The Orchestra of St. Luke's opens its season at Carnegie Hall.
Pablo Heras-Casado.
Photo from the conductor's official website.
All entities must evolve to survive, and the Orchestra of St. Lukes has undergone some changes in recent years. The ensemble, which originated playing chamber music at the Church of St. Lukes in the Fields in Greenwich Village has had, since 2011,  a permanent address: the Dimenna Center on Manhattan's West Side. They are also about to change music directors again, with period performance expert Bernard Labardie slotted to replace Pablo Heras-Casado next season.


However, Thursday night's concert of Mozart and Beethoven found Mr. Heras-Casado firmly at the controls, it opened with a robust performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, perhaps the only one of that composer's nine that works as an effective curtain-raiser. This reviewer was reminded of the vivid start of this conductor's  tenure. In July of 2013, a Beethoven Seventh at a tempest-tossed Caramoor was rendered almost inaudible by rain pouring on the festival tent that afternoon.

In the much drier and fuller acoustic of Carnegie Hall, one could hear the effort that this conductor goes to at putting phrase and nuance into Beethoven. Tiny accelerandi appeared hither and thither in the music, serving to drive the whole work forward with the relentless momentum of a perpetual motion machine. The brisk business-like opening chords launched the music into a careening allegro. The sense of bustle and energy never let up for four movements.

The Andante offered opportunities for the winds to shine, but everyone onstage seemed occupied with following the conductor ’s whims and moving the music along at a steady jog. The dance movement had a spring to its step and the contrasting trio made for a moment of lyric reflection. This led to a hurried final movement, with the conductor striving for the limits of prestissimo Then, (in accordance with the advice of Richard Strauss) he insisted on doubling the pace with predictable, that is, mixed results.

The second half of the program featured the Mozart Great Mass in C minor, a work left unfinished by its creator. It is invariably presented in a five-movement edition with the last two sections written by one Helmut Eder. Unlike most of Mozart's religious music this was not a commission, but a work begin as a showcase of the young composer’s considerable ability. It's three Mozart-written movements contain wide variance in their musical styles. Different sections of the Mass text emerge as choral music, as fugue (forbidden in the church music of 18th century Austria) and as soaring operatic arias and trios.

Those numbers were sung by the sopranos Camilla Tilling and Susannah Philips, joined for the trio by tenor Thomas Cooley. Ms. Tilling handled the more demanding passages, including the steep intervals of “Christe Eleison” and the long and demanding "Et incarnate est” aria. (That section of the Credo is the last section of this Mass that Mozart wrote.) Ms. Philips shone too, singing lyric passages with fluid tone, both in her solos and the big duet with Ms. Tilling. The male soloists have less to do but Mr, Cooley and baritone Michael Sumuci did well in supporting roles 

A strong chorus is necessary for this work to succeed. Here the chorus was the Westminster Symphonic Choir, whose taut performance of the Kyrie and the choral section of the Gloria lent both of these movements credence as acts of musical faith. Mozart's remarkable use of minor key chords and powerful orchestrations showed the way forward to the more mystic pages of Die Zauberflöte. The closing Sanctus and Benedictus are of minor consequence but they provide this work with a necessary sense of closure.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.