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Beethoven & Mozart with the New York Philharmonic

Guest Conductor Jane Glover & soprano Karen Slack with the New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee

At Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall, on the afternoon of Friday, May 10th, I had the considerable pleasure to attend a superb concert of classical era music presented by the players of the New York Philharmonic, under the assured direction of guest conductor Jane Glover

The event began splendidly with an exceptional account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s marvelous Symphony No. 35 in D major, the “Haffner”, K.385. The initial Allegro con spirito movement is vibrant, although with subdued moments, while the Haydnesque Andante that follows is graceful and unexpectedly playful. The ensuing Menuetto is stately and elegant even as it is replete with forceful statements, and the exhilarating Presto finale is propulsive, but again with more reflective interludes.

A fine soprano, Karen Slack, in her debut performances with this ensemble, then entered the stage, to impressively sing Ludwig van Beethoven’s pronouncedly Mozartean recitative and aria from 1796, Ah! perfido, Op. 65. In a useful note on the program, James M. Keller provides the following description:

For the recitative of this piece Beethoven employed a text by the poet Pietro Metastasio. The singer, who has been deceived by her lover, goes through a tumultuous sequence of conflicting emotions, all underscored by the ever-changing tempo and the varying character of the orchestral underpinnings. With the aria proper (“Per pietà, non dirmi addio”), to an anonymous text, we enter another Mozartean world, one in which woodwinds add pointed commentary above the limpid vocal line. The aria seems to reach its conclusion as the singer bemoans her desperate state, but this is a false ending: an extension introduces an outburst of anger, and finally an expression of almost defiant self-respect. The language throughout is not much of an advance on Mozart’s, but Ah! perfido does point the way to such an achievement as the “Abscheulicher” aria that Beethoven would write in his opera Fidelio, not only in its structure but also in its movement in expression from anger and desolation to self-affirming confidence.

The second half of the concert was comparable in strength, starting with a pleasurable realization of Mozart’s wonderful, seldom performed, and astonishingly precocious Symphony No. 13 in F major, K.112, from 1771, written when he was only fifteen. The opening Allegro is ebullient, if with serious episodes, and closer to the Baroque in style at times. The succeeding Andante is charming, but with surprising depth, leading to a brief but admirable Menuetto movement and a majestic finale marked Molto allegro.

The event concluded rewardingly with an accomplished rendition of the most substantial work on the program, the same composer’s major Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K.543, from 1788, the first of his supreme final trilogy of symphonies. The first movement has a solemn, Adagiointroduction, while its main body—an Allegro—is enthralling, but with quieter passages. It precedes an Andante con moto that achieves profundity even as it enchants and a melodious Menuetto with a bewitching Trio. The dynamic, Allegro finale is almost breathless in pace and ultimately dazzling.

The musicians deservedly received an enthusiastic ovation.

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