The Bartered Bride – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Reviewed by: Fred Kirshnit
Reviewed: 28 February, 2015
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Current orthodoxy at Western music academies prescribes a strict adherence to ‘historical accuracy’, although it is still rare to hear a performance of the Symphonie fantastique that employs an ophicleide. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sees itself as iconoclastic within the periodicity movement. To quote its publicity: “Specialize in repertoire of a particular era? Too restricting… Period-specific instruments have become just one element of its quest for authenticity.”
Ádám Fischer, who led a high-spirited performance of Die Zauberflöte earlier this season at the Met and is the brother of principal artist of the OAE, Iván, opened the evening with an energetic rendition of the Overture to The Bartered Bride. On display was a heightened sense of drama and a devil take the hindmost feel of an almost out of control gallop. Smetana, history’s second-greatest deaf composer, was given his due and then some in this hyper-charged version.
The late-19th-century practice of offering an Overture followed by a Concerto and then, after intermission, a Symphony is somewhat out of favor now, but this very format aided in the re-creation and examination of the era that spawned these masterworks. Some random observations, not designed to be either praising or pejorative:
The performance of the Brahms was not a good one. Mullova’s tone was harsh and the OAE had some bad moments of poor intonation and cringe-worthy mistakes. Living by the ‘period’-instrument sword, the natural horns had quite a lot of trouble with their higher notes. The long oboe solo that so ear-catchingly begins the Adagio was haunted by wrong notes and slurred transitions and the overall impression was one of under-rehearsal. Mullova rallied somewhat in her Bach encore, the Adagio from Sonata in G minor (BWV 1001).
Premiered just down the street at Carnegie Hall with the composer in attendance – although the repetition of the Largo movement in Dvořák’s honor is probably an apocryphal story – the ‘New World’ Symphony has enjoyed tremendous popularity and an almost mythical place in the history of American culture. It is not an overstatement that much of the music of the United States in the 20th-century owes its genesis to this Bohemian (certainly Aaron Copland is Dvořák’s love child). Fortuitously, the OAE rallied nicely and produced a solid realization of this piece, although not without flaws of balance (the hard stick timpani were light-years too loud) and accuracy. The program booklet listed two different gentlemen as the players of oboe and English horn (cor anglais) respectively; however the same individual that flubbed the solo in the Brahms was at the ready this night to stumble through the vital “Goin’ Home” section of the Dvořák.
Lastly, in a rare opportunity for London audiences to judge whether we American reviewers know of what we speak, the OAE repeats this program at Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, March 4. Let’s hope for stronger results.