New York Philharmonic/Bernard Labadie – Johann Sebastian Bach with Isabelle Faust

Orchestral Suite No.4 in D, BWV1069
Concerto in E for Violin, Strings and Continuo, BWV1042
Cantata, BWV42: Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats – Sinfonia
Concerto in A minor for Violin, Strings and Continuo, BWV1041
Orchestral Suite No.3 in D, BWV1068

Isabelle Faust (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Bernard Labadie

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 22 March, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Bernard Labadie. Photograph: David CannonThis was the third of four programs in the New York Philharmonic’s month-long festival entitled “The Bach Variations”, each program under a different conductor. Previously Masaaki Suzuki conducted choral works by Bach and Mendelssohn and Alan Gilbert led a performance of the B minor Mass. Bernard Labadie directed the present program and András Schiff will perform the final one and include Bach keyboard concertos and works by Mendelssohn and Schumann. Other festival events include the Cello Suites with the Philharmonic’s principal, Carter Brey.

Labadie, who believes that symphony orchestras should be more active in performing 18th-century music that in recent years has been left mostly to specialized ensembles such as Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec, both of which he founded, was largely successful in infusing this performance with characteristic features of Baroque style, including energetic tempos and minimization of vibrato. To produce an appropriate sound in Avery Fisher Hall’s large auditorium, the depth of the stage was reduced with zigzag wooden screens behind the players, and the oboes and bassoon were seated on a raised platform behind the strings and the trumpets on the far left side of the stage so as to allow their sound to project directly toward the audience. In a sort of compromise between what would be ideally suited to the music and what is appropriate to the hall, Labadie used string complements ranging from eight first violins and three double basses for the suites to six first violins and a single double bass for the Sinfonia. The results were generally effective, although the harpsichord was all but inaudible.

Right from the opening of the ‘Ouverture’ to the D major Orchestral Suite Labadie set a rapid tempo, picking up the pace even further with the shift to triple meter following the repeat of the introduction. Regal fanfares from trumpets and timpani greeted and ended the first ‘Bourrée’, with the winds – and especially Judith LeClair’s bassoon – prominent in the second one. As in the succeeding dance sections, Labadie restrained the strings to maintain dynamic balance with the woodwinds, and ended each with a slight ritardando, allowing the final chord to resonate. In the ‘Gavotte’, sustained notes on the first trumpet lent an air of majesty, and the oboes were charming in the first ‘Menuet’ as Labadie spun out the graceful melodic line. A trio of first-desk soloists – violinists Sheryl Staples and Mark Ginsberg, and violist Rebecca Young – joined the continuo ensemble of cellist Sumire Kudo, double bassist Satoshi Okamoto, and Paolo Bordignon on harpsichord, in an elegant rendering of the second ‘Menuet’. The concluding ‘Réjouissance’ sped by briskly, the final bars gloriously topped off by the trumpets.

Isabelle Faust. Photograph: Felix BroedeIsabelle Faust, making her New York Philharmonic debut, gave both of the violin concertos stylish performances, more primus inter pares than as the soloist in a romantic concerto, and adding ornamentation to give fresh interest to repeated passages. Her playing was technically adroit, with excellent rhythmic and dynamic sensibility, and her intonation on her ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivarius was secure and resonant. Labadie was a careful accompanist. The outer movements of both concertos were lively and vigorous, and the slow ones – particularly in the E major – were achingly lovely.

Between the concertos, a reduced ensemble gave an engaging rendition of the ‘Sinfonia’, and the same forces that opened the concert returned for the ‘other’ D major Orchestral Suite (BWV1068), which began with Labadie evoking ferocious outbursts from the trumpets and timpani, but showing much more gentility as the strings and oboe took over. The ‘Air’ – famous as “Air on the G String” – was perhaps the least baroque-sounding portion of the concert, the strings swelling out powerfully. The brilliant trumpets dominated the remaining sections.

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