A feast of Mozart (mostly) with Glover and the Philharmonic

Thu May 09, 2024 at 1:37 pm
Karen Slack was the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido with Jane Glover conducting the New York Philharmonic Wednesday night at David Geffen Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

Grace and elegance were the order of the day Wednesday evening with Dame Jane Glover leading the New York Philharmonic on Wednesday evening at David Geffen Hall. The emphasis was on Mozart, who is among the select group of composers whose music and life have been her life’s work.

The core of the program was three Mozart symphonies which chart the full flowering of his genius from the age of 15 until three years before his death in 1788. The programming did not follow chronological order, but rather an emotional arc which contrasted buoyancy and lightness with intensity and drama. Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, composed much in the style of Mozart, provided the lion’s share of the latter.

The concert opened with the familiar strains of the Symphony No. 35 in D major (“Haffner”), K.385. The dedicatee was his friend Sigmund Haffner and It was originally intended to be performed in honor of his elevation to the nobility in 1782. Short of time, Mozart dashed off what is known as the Haffner Serenade, K.250. Later, he reworked the piece into a proper symphony, the results of which delighted him.

Glover instilled flow, energy, and transparency into this performance of the “Haffner” Symphony, while maintaining its vigor and boldness. In the Allegro con spirito, the running scales and great slashing scores resounded forcefully, while the Andante had an underlying jauntiness to its refined airs. The Minuetto was notable for the suppleness and lilt, while the concluding Presto simply roared with the timpani adding force and flare. 

Beethoven composedthe concert aria Ah! Perfido in 1796 for a performance in Prague. The city and the genre of the work are forever linked with Mozart, as was Prince Karl Lichnowsky. He was a patron to both men, and travelled with Beethoven to Prague just as he had with Mozart a few years earlier. 

Ah! Perfido is a setting of a text by Pietro Metastasio which depicts the torments of an abandoned woman railing against her duplicitous lover. It was among the many works which Beethoven programmed it in the monumental 1808 concert which featured the premieres of his Symphony No. 5 and Symphony No. 6.

Soprano Karen Slack made her NY Phil debut in the Beethoven. Her sizeable voice, with its slightly veiled quality, captured all of the vacillating emotions of the piece. In the opening recitative, she was especially attentive to text and dynamics. While in the aria, Slack sang with a special sensitivity to line until exploding with fury when giving voice to the woman’s rage. 

Instrumental highlights in the Beethoven included the particularly poignant playing of principal clarinetist Anthony McGill and the incisive string pizzicati which accompanied Slack in the aria’s more reflective passages.

The second half of the concert opened with Symphony No. 13 in F major, K.112 composed in 1771. It may not be Mozart at his weightiest musically or emotionally, but conductor and orchestra made a charming case for the youthful endeavor in its first performance by the NY Phil. 

The opening Allegro was exciting and vibrant, a perfect complement to the lightness and delicacy of the Andante. Glover led the strings in a robust reading of the Menuetto, which was enlivened by the incisive bowing of the strings. The horns added depth and richness to the fast, but expertly paced concluding Molto Allegro.

Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K.543, which followed, was the first of Mozart’s final three efforts in the genre, all of which were completed in less than three months in 1788. It was a particularly fraught time for the composer due to the crunch of his musical activities, the illness of his wife, and pressing financial needs.

Glover brought drama and suspense to the first movement. The Andante con moto was notable for the phrasing in the violins with flowing musical lines cresting ever so gently and the marvelous textures provided by the woodwinds and brass. 

The NY Phil’s two excellent clarinetists, Anthony McGill and Benjamin Adler, provided a bucolic naturalness to the stately dance. In the concluding Allegro, the clear, bright sound of the violins bloomed effortlessly from the complex carpet of sound. Sigh-like phrases, which gradually increased in momentum and expressiveness, brought the concert to a close. 

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Friday. nyphil.org

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