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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Concert Review: Two Tickets, No Paradise

Gianandrea Noseda conducts at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gianandrea Noseda. Photo © 2017 Fondazione Teatro Regio di Torino.
The Carnegie Hall calendar is released every year in the final week of January, but not everything on that august and immense document comes to fruition. The concert originally planned for this Sunday would have featured Gianandrea Noseda conducting Verdi’s grand opera  I Vespri Siciliani in its five-act entirety with the Teatro Regio di Torino. Its substitute: a two part choral concert with Mr. Noseda leading the National Symphony Orchestra, who are based in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Noseda filled the void with two enormous and tangentially related works: the Dante Symphony by Franz Liszt and the setting of the Stabat Mater by Gioachino Rossini. The latter was completed long after the composer had stopped making operas and was enjoying a long retirement as the grand old man of the Parisian salons. These works are relative rarities, and are tied together in that they both contain an Doration of the Virgin Mary in their respective texts.

Liszt was a master at reducing large scale orchestral and operatic works into elaborate transcriptions for his concerts. However, when called to reverse that process and write for large orchestra, he had all the subtlety of a piano thrown with a trebuchet. The Dante Symphony is unconventional: cast in two movements with an added appendage. The composer set only the first two parts of The Divine Comedy, Inferno and Purgatorio. On the advice of his friend and future son-in-lae, he elected to convey the mysteries of Paradise with a few lines from the Magnificat, a hymn to the Virgin.

Under Mr. Noseda’s enthusiastic leadership, the entrance into the Inferno was depicted with a series of slamming brass chords eructed by the trombones and trumpets. The work then spirals downward through the nine circles of hell in the format of a long sonata movement. Its development was lush, lyric and romantic, depicting the damned lovers Paolo and Francesca. The recapitulation was masterful, the opening movement now twisted and embellished with demonic orchestral laughter. (We get it. Hell is bad.)

Purgatorio is very different, an upward climb up Dante’s mountain as the sinner tries to atone for each of the seven deadly sins. These each received their little orchestral portrait, but the experience proved akin to trying to take in all the details on a particularly busy and ornamented medieval cathedral. At the apex came the quick whiff of heavenly Paradise: Liszt's setting of the Magnificat sung by the women of the University of Maryland Concert Choir and soprano soloist Erika Grimaldi.

Rossini’s Stabat Mater stands next to the Verdi Requiem as one of the greatest hybrids between operatic style and church music. It is a setting of a medieval poem depicting the anguish of the Virgin Mary witnessing  the crucifixion of her son Jesus. Rossini broke the work into ten movements, taking the listener on a spiritual journey that is accompanied by driving rhythms, delicate a capella segments and the composer’s trademark tune-writing--this may be the catchiest depiction of these horrific events ever penned.

That disparity didn't stop Mr. Noseda and his forces from delivering a thrilling performance. Standouts included tenor Michael Angelini making the most of his big aria in the second movement (one of those idiosyncratic and hummable Rossini tunes) and bass-baritone Marko Mimica. This fine singer sang his passages with a formidable weight. Ms. Grimaldi and mezzo Chiara Amarati proved eloquent and compelling soloists, backed by a razor sharp and well prepared chorus, at the works climax, Mr. Noseda’s tall, angular frame nearly achieved liftoff.

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