BWW Reviews: Back to the 18th Century with Labadie, Persson and the New York Philharmonic

BWW Reviews: Back to the 18th Century with Labadie, Persson and the New York Philharmonic

Handel wrote over 1000 da capo arias--a musical mainstay of Italian Baroque operas--during his career, but none more thrilling than "Let the Bright Seraphim." The showpiece for soprano and piccolo trumpet, which comes at the very end of the oratorio SAMSON, is a joyous crowd-pleaser, if done only halfway right. Swedish soprano Miah Persson did much more than that, with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall last Friday conducted by Bernard Labadie, and featuring the Philharmonic's Matthew Muckey on solo trumpet.

Handel reigns in six minutes or less

Lasting less than six minutes at the center of the evening's program, and with just 27 words, the aria summons the celestial hosts to hail a dead hero. The vocal fireworks plus sensitive interplay between Persson and Muckey resulted in a most exquisitely detailed performance. The soloists seemed to be having a good time, which was key to the quality of the performance, and passed along to the audience.

The aria was the linchpin of the program, connecting the works by Bach and Mozart.

Persson and Muckey were also soloists in the program's opener, JS Bach's Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51), which featured a superb 25-musician Baroque ensemble carved out of the Philharmonic. The music is brutally difficult--it makes Handel look like a day at the beach--and Persson took some time warming up before hitting her stride. As she began, her singing was surprisingly cautious and she held on to her score for dear life, but nonetheless it ended as a thoughtful, ecstatic performance that improved as it went along.

A "new" Mozart Requiem

The star of the program, however, was a new completion of the Mozart Requiem, K. 626 by Robert D. Levin, with four soloists: again, soprano Persson, with mezzo Stephanie Blythe, tenor Frederic Antoun, and bass Andrew Foster-Williams.

As anyone who's seen the film "Amadeus" knows, Mozart left this work unfinished at his death, more or less completed through the Lacrimosa. It was taken up by Sussmayr, who (it has been said) was dictated instructions by Mozart on his deathbed; this is the version that was used for years, although others have followed. Levin's version, according to the Philharmonic's program, "takes into consideration a plethora of early sources," performance tradition, "and a generous measure of creativity." Whatever its sources, the performance moved along smoothly, and conductor Labadie admirably let the music speak for itself, with no thought of anything but serving Mozart well.

More Persson-ality

This evening's concert provided another occasion for Persson to show what a fine Mozart soprano she is. After hearing her performance as the Countess in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO at Mostly Mozart last summer, I was happy to catch up with her again and her silvery voice didn't disappoint.

Of the singers, mezzo Blythe has the biggest voice, which she has used to special effect in as Fricka in Wagner's Ring, among many roles at the Met. In a more intimate setting, she showed off her ability to modulate her sound and never overpower her colleagues--a real accomplishment, because with no effort at all, she could have blown everyone out to Broadway.

Tenor Antoun, making his Philharmonic debut, was wonderful in music that reminded me how closely this composition followed DON GIOVANNI in Mozart's canon. He did a lovely job meeting the Requiem's broad demands and I look forward to hearing him sing "Il mio tesoro" someday soon. Bass Foster-Williams rounding out the quartet nicely.

Last but not least, bravos to the New York Choral Artists, under Director Joseph Flummerfelt; they had a busy night in the Bach and Mozart (so many notes between them!) and were a pleasure to hear, blanketing the hall with a rich, warm sound.

Pictured: Soprano Miah Persson. Photo Credit: Mina Artistbilder.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.