Robert R. Reilly has once again lent his ears, pen, and expertise to ionarts and we gratefully receive his review of last night's performance of the National Symphony Orchestra. Don't forget to buy Surprised by Beauty (and a copy for all your friends, too) - it's the right thing to do. $20 for a guilt-free conscience is a bargain, and with it comes a free and excellent (and bold) book about composers you have likely not heard about, but should.
|W.A.Mozart, Symphonies 21-41, |
J.Krips / Concertgebouw
Philips / Decca
Daniel Ginsberg, From NSO, a Wagnerian Class Act (Washington Post, January 13)
Charles T. Downey, DCist Goes to the Symphony (DCist, January 14)
Tim Smith, Conlon lights up NSO concert stage (Baltimore Sun, January 16)
Conlon did not seem to be doing anything in particular with this music. It was under-characterized and suffered from a lack of crispness and a slackness of tempo. Small-band, small-picture. Where was the esprit? Where was the excitement? Conlon finally brought things to life in the last movement, but that was far too little to save an otherwise plodding performance of this symphony from its far too long warm-up.
|R. Wagner, Die Walküre, Acts I & II, O. Klemperer (B. Seidler-Winkler) / Lehmann, Melchior, Hotter, et al.|
However, Conlon did speak of passion, and from the first bar of the Wagner, he and the orchestra exhibited exactly that in this performance, which he movingly dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased Birgit Nilsson. Conlon’s heart was as obviously in this music as it seemed absent from the Mozart. Throughout, the orchestra was completely on the mark and played gorgeously (how often to you get to hear the glorious sound of 8 double basses?).
Soprano Anja Kampe gave a tremendously stirring performance as Sieglinde. (See the ionarts review of her previous appearance as Sieglinde in Washington). She has a very big voice and knows how to use its full range expressively. At first, Clifton Forbis as Siegmund seemed to have a somewhat constricted range and limited expression. But he was just warming up and later delivered some thrilling moments, most especially an electrifying “Wälse! Wälse! Wo ist dein Schwert?” Bass Eric Halfvarson as Hunding was a commanding presence with a full-bore bass voice that shook the hall with its rich sound.
The particulars of the performance are not really that important when something like this -- soloists, orchestra, and conductor -- coalesces into some supreme moments of expression that surpass them all, when the things at which they were aiming together have been achieved. There were moments like that Thursday night.
No one stood for the Mozart, but the audience was on its feet at the end of the Wagner. Deservedly so. Looking down from Valhalla, Birgit Nilsson must have been smiling.
Repeat performances will be held today, Friday, and tomorrow, Saturday, at 8PM.