New York Philharmonic/Sir Colin Davis

Les nuits d’été, Op.7
Serenade in D, K.250 (Haffner)

Ian Bostridge (tenor)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 29 April, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

The New York Philharmonic welcomed back Sir Colin Davis, a former Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra, for the first of two programmes.

Davis reduced the size of the orchestra’s string sections for “Les nuits d’été”, which is much smaller in scale than most of the works for which Berlioz is best known. It is, however, imbued with the composer’s characteristic romanticism. The audience was drawn in immediately by Ian Bostridge’s bright singing of the catchy opening tune in ‘Villanelle’, Davis conducting with elegant but economical gestures. The succeeding song, ‘Le spectre de la rose’, was breathtaking from the opening flute solo to the delicately sung, clarinet-accompanied final passage.

Bostridge showed off the breadth of his vocal range in ‘Sur les lagunes: Lamento’ (On the Lagoons: Lament), portraying in low tones the despair of a mourner comparing the night to a shroud, then leaping upward with anguished cries at having to set to sea without love, with a soft, shimmering cello postlude suggesting his departure over the waters. Following the brighter ‘Absence’, the mood again turned plaintive in ‘Au cimetière: Clair de lune’ (In the Cemetery: Moonlight), with the flute and string harmonics creating an eerie sound as Bostridge sang of an white-veiled, angelic form passing in a tremulous light. In ‘L’île inconnue’ (The Unknown Isle), which brought the work to an optimistic conclusion, Davis employed sweeping gestures that evoked uplifting performances by Bostridge and the orchestra. Appreciation of the performance was enhanced by the use of supertitles to convey translations of the Théophile Gautier texts.

Following the interval, Davis led the orchestra in a charming performance of Mozart’s Haffner Serenade, which was commissioned for the wedding of the sister of an upper-class friend of the composer. Here again, the string sections were scaled down (although less so than for the Berlioz) to maintain an appropriate balance with the winds and trumpets. The work is in eight movements, with the second, third and fourth movements, which feature a solo violin, here Glenn Dicterow, the Philharmonic’s concertmaster.

From the outset, Davis cut a far more expressive figure on the podium than the restrained image he had projected in the Berlioz. Sir Colin put his personal stamp on this performance, making clear through gesture and expression his every wish, to which the orchestra responded unfailingly. From the opening movement onward, orchestral balances were perfect and variations in volume and tempo managed masterfully. In the violin-solo movements Dicterow played elegantly, producing a lovely, soaring tone in the Andante, frolicking with the horn in the Trio section of the third movement Menuetto, and then, in the Rondeau, tossing off rapid figures with delicacy and ease.

Two of the remaining four movements are also in minuet form. The first of these, marked Menuetto galante, was sweeping and genial, with Davis all but dancing along on the podium. Its Trio took on a darker and agitated mood, however, before the geniality returned. The last of the work’s three minuets features two Trio sections. In the first flute and bassoon accompanied the lyrical strings and the rhythmic second featured the horns and trumpets, with the violas also prominent. The finale began with a lush and beautifully played Adagio. The strings’ bowing then abruptly changed from legato to spiccato, ushering in the jocular Allegro assai which brought the work to its rousing conclusion.

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