New York Philharmonic/Sir Colin Davis

Mozart
Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (Paris)
La Clemenza di Tito, K621 – Deh, per questo instante solo
Britten
Phaedra, Op.93
Haydn
Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drumroll)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo-soprano)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 December, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Saturday, December 18, was a banner day in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, when the New York Philharmonic performed its 14-thousandth concert. Setting a record unmatched by any other symphony orchestra in the world, the Philharmonic’s achievement was officially recognized by “Guinness World Records”. The presentation to Philharmonic Chairman Paul Guenther by Stuart Claxton, “Guinness World Records” researcher, preceded the musical program.

Of course, what counts more than the number of concerts performed is the quality of those performances. And in this milestone event, led by Sir Colin Davis, the Philharmonic musicians consistently demonstrated the highest levels of virtuosity in a memorable program that featured the Philharmonic debut of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and reunited her with Davis, whom she had last worked with at Tanglewood in 1980, in her previous incarnation as a violist.

Mozart’s bright, swift ‘Paris’ Symphony opened the concert, with Davis leading the players in a fresh and vital performance, cleanly articulated, and generally marked by brisk speeds. In this performance the orchestra played the elegant Andante in 6/8 time that was long assumed to be the original second movement. In a 1981 article, musicologist Alan Tyson argued that this movement is in fact the replacement Andante that Mozart wrote to placate Jean Le Gros, the Paris impresario who commissioned the piece for the “Concert Spirituel”.

Following the Mozart symphony, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang “Deh, per questo instante solo” from “La clemenza di Tito”, Mozart’s opera-seria based on a tale from ancient Rome. In the aria, one of the longest in Mozart’s operas, Sesto, a young Roman patrician and failed assassin, confesses his guilt to the amazed Emperor Tito and, as a final favor, begs him to appreciate that his vile act was inspired by love. Hunt Lieberson delivered a powerfully expressive performance marked by rich vocal color, a wide dynamic range, and exceptionally well-molded sound.

In the second half, she embodied the title character in Britten’s “Phaedra”. The composer took his text from Robert Lowell’s free translation of Racine’s “Phèdre”, focusing on the title character’s final guilt, confession and suicide. In the work, structured as a Handelian cantata and written specifically for Janet Baker, Phaedra unrolls her erupting emotions in a series of recitatives and arias. Hunt Lieberson’s performance was a tour de force of phrasing and feeling that successfully conveyed all the character’s hysteria and remorse. Davis led the orchestra in a performance that came off equally well, the players producing beautiful sounds and fully responding to the theatrical sweep of the score. The wonderful continuo work of cellist Hae-Ye Ni and harpsichordist Lionel Party rendered every nuance in Britten’s soundworld with remarkable precision and clarity.

To end a brilliant, exuberant performance of Haydn’s ‘Drumroll’ Symphony. From the stately opening to the spirited finale (in this performance Davis employed Haydn’s revised and concisely expressive ending), this was an exceptionally likeable interpretation, which brought out all the wit, warmth, and sparkle of Haydn’s writing.

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