Le nozze di Figaro – Overture Strauss
Don Juan, Op.20 Mozart
Die Zauberflöte – In diesen heil’gen Hallen Verdi
La traviata – Teneste la promessa … Addio del passato Mozart
Don Giovanni – Là ci darem la mano Verdi
Rigoletto – Bella figlia dell’amore Mahler
Symphony No.5 – Adagietto Bartók
Concerto for Orchestra
World Orchestra for Peace
Cristian Macelaru [Rigoletto]
Solti Centennial Concert – World Orchestra for Peace/Gergiev with Angela Gheorghiu & René Pape
Friday, October 19, 2012 Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Reviewed by Lewis M. Smoley
The World Orchestra for Peace, comprised of players from more than 60 orchestras in 35 countries, was founded by Sir Georg Solti on the 50th-anniversary of the United Nations in 1995. Since Solti’s death in 1997, his friend Valery Gergiev has conducted the orchestra, now bringing it to the USA for the first time. Lady Solti commented to the audience about the significance to Solti’s career of each work on the program – opera excerpts representing his decade as music director of The Royal Opera, and orchestral works from his 22 years as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Solti was also closely associated with the London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris.) Angela Gheorghiu and René Pape, both championed by Solti, were joined by young singers who were recipients of either a Solti Foundation grant or training at The Georg Solti Accademia.
The concert opened with the Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which Solti conducted for the first time in Budapest at the age of 25. The World Orchestra for Peace played with fine precision and moderate spirit. But after a bravura opening, alive with energy, Gergiev gave Strauss’s Don Juan a temperate and stilted reading, with odd mannerisms in the love theme, transition passages that passed by routinely, and climaxes that never reached dramatic heights. One missed the incisiveness, rhythmic intensity and magnificent power that Solti brought to this work.
Gheorghiu and Pape sang beautifully in their respective solos from The Magic Flute and La traviata, the former with touching simplicity enhanced by creamy tones, the latter with the directness of a recital singer who retains a substantial degree of vocal heft and immaculate precision. Gergiev kept the orchestra at a respectfully low dynamic during these arias, but Pape’s Don Giovanni was an uncharacteristically reticent lover to Gheorghiu’s Zerlina in ‘La ci darem la mano’.
The young singers assembled for the Rigoletto excerpt performed admirably under the direction of this year’s winner of The Georg Solti Foundation award for young American conductors, Cristian Macelaru. All have fine voices with much potential. A muffed cue by Macelaru at the end of the piece is no indication of what must be his substantial talent to be a recipient of a Solti award.
Then Gergiev led the WOP in the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. A slightly unfocused opening ushered in a moderately satisfying reading that reflected the differences between his and Solti’s approach to Mahler. Flickers of emotion were interspersed throughout both the opening and middle sections, but only from the reprise of the main theme did Gergiev generate warmth and repose. Violins sounded a bit wiry, lacking the glow that makes this music so captivating. Yet the closing section was handled beautifully, with a well-timed gradual increase in intensity.
Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra – the young Solti studied with the composer – was a fitting conclusion to this concert. Indeed, the WOP played it under Solti at their first concert in Geneva in 1995. Gergiev seemed intent on sticking closely to Solti’s vision of the work. Nevertheless, long stretches, mostly in the outer movements, seemed to run on autopilot, lacking involvement, character, and incision. That aside, there were some impressive moments: the shimmering aura during the opening of the work and enhanced by a haunting flute solo by Martha Aarons (Cleveland Orchestra); sparkling and characterful woodwinds, including a delightfully jocular bassoon duet by Steven Braunstein (San Francisco Symphony) and David McGill (Chicago Symphony) in ‘The Game of the Couples’ made all the more interesting by biting accentuation; and a whirlwind finale.
Overall this concert was a worthy tribute to a great maestro who was a major influence on all of these performers’ lives, and also most of us.