New York Philharmonic/Sir Colin Davis

La clemenza di Tito, K621 – Overture
Ch’io mi scordi di te, K505
Piano Concerto No.26 in D, K537 (Coronation)
Luonnotar, Op.70
Symphony No.3 in C, Op.52

Soile Isokoski (soprano)

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 3 May, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Sir Colin Davis was back at Avery Fisher Hall to continue the celebration of the 250th-anniversary of Mozart’s birth, in a magical concert split between that composer and Sibelius, and offering a varied but well-balanced program of overture, aria, piano concerto, tone poem and symphony. Always a welcome presence at the New York Philharmonic, Davis was joined by two other prominent Mozarteans: pianist Mitsuko Uchida and soprano Soile Isokoski.

The program opened with the overture to Mozart’s opera-seria “La clemenza di Tito”. Written in 1791 in response to a commission to celebrate the coronation in Prague of the Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia, the opera tells the story of a failed assassination plot against the first-century Roman Emperor Tito (Titus Flavius Vespasianus), and of the Emperor’s magnanimous decision to forgive everyone involved, including his friend Sesto, the originator of the plot. In this dynamic and highly nuanced performance of the overture, Sir Colin Davis demonstrated his usual flair for Mozart, bringing out all the vitality and power of this grand and dignified piece and drawing exceptionally articulate playing from the Philharmonic woodwinds.

Following the overture, Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski teamed up with Mitsuko Uchida to give a fresh and urgent performance of Mozart’s demanding concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te” (You ask that I forget you). With Uchida performing the difficult piano obbligato which Mozart delivered at its first performance in Vienna by Nancy Storace (the London-born soprano for whom Mozart composed the aria), Isokoski gave a sensitive, characterful and superbly articulated interpretation, full of imaginatively pointed words and phrases. Uchida (mouthing the words as Isokoski sang), played with her usual elegance, while the Philharmonic players provided appropriately stylish and supportive accompaniment.

As the soloist in Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ piano concerto, Uchida delivered a charming performance marked by lyricism, sparkle and wit, with plenty of pearly passagework in the outer movements. Although Mozart left no cadenzas, the opening Allegro movement explicitly calls for one; Uchida played the one by Wanda Landowska. Davis complemented Uchida’s joyful and elegant playing by drawing tensile yet transparent support from the New York Philharmonic players.

The second half of the program was devoted to Sibelius, another composer with whom Sir Colin is closely associated. Luonnotar, completed in 1913 and described by Sibelius as “a tone poem for soprano and orchestra”, is a vocally daunting work. The composer freely adapted the text from the first poem of the “Kalevala”, the Finnish national epic, changing words to better fit his music. The poem is an ethnic Finnish version of the creation myth. Luonnotar, a lonely maiden of the heavens, dropped into the seas and swam for seven hundred years. Then a duck, looking for somewhere to nest, came and landed on her knee. The duck’s eggs rolled off Luonnotar’s leg into the ocean and their broken pieces emerged as the sky, the moon and the stars. The highly dramatic ten-minute piece exhibits an essentially instrumental approach to the voice. Isokoski made a strong impression in a sensitive performance in which she more than ably handled its two-octave range, broad leaps, and sustained pianissimo high C flat. Sir Colin drew fine, highly committed, and atmospheric playing from the orchestra.

Davis’s sense of commitment and power was equally evident in the spacious performance of Sibelius’s Third Symphony. The tempos in all three movements were judged to perfection, with inner tension finely managed. The leisurely tempo adopted in the second movement evoked a haunting, elusive feeling of tranquility without allowing the tension to sag. This was a thought-provoking performance full of spirit and feeling.

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