Two nights ago, the New York Philharmonic presented a very appetizing concert. Three excellent musicians had been hired. Three excellent pieces had been programmed (at least two of them masterpieces). Who could ask for anything more?
No, Porgy and Bess was not on the program. But Mozart and Mahler were. The evening began with a Mozart concert aria: “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” etc. Doing the honors as the soprano was Golda Schultz, the South African. Doing the honors as the pianist was Francesco Piemontesi, the Swiss (or Italian Swiss, if you like). On the podium was Gianandrea Noseda, from Milan, who is the music director in Washington (that is, of the National Symphony Orchestra).
Golda Schultz sings Mozart purely, as she has demonstrated many times. But she does not sing him daintily. There is body and heart in her pure Mozart singing. In the concert aria, she was both correct and feeling. Who could ask for anything more (I say again)?
Piemontesi is not dissimilar: pure but substantial. In the aria, he showed he has a special gift for tapering—for tapering a phrase (where appropriate).
After the aria, he sat down to a Mozart concerto: No. 25 in C, K. 503. This is maybe Mozart’s meatiest. (It is certainly his longest.) Piemontesi is prized as a soloist in Mozart concertos. He is, for example, a fixture in the “Mozart Matinées” at the Salzburg Festival. It was wise to engage him as a soloist in New York.
I have a bone to pick, however. In his opening phrases of K. 503, he messed with time. He did not play the last two notes of each phrase in time. He was cute with them, in my judgment. You know how comedians say, “Too soon?” Well, this was way too soon for rubato of that sort.
I believe Mozart would agree with me. But maybe Piemontesi and I could ask him someday.
Another bone to pick: in some portions of the concerto, Piemontesi’s sound was rather slight. A fatter, richer sound—deeper into the keys—would have served.
But listen, he is a first-rate Mozartean. He is clean as a hound’s tooth. He sculpts the phrases smoothly. He has playfulness and alacrity (as Mozart himself has).
The second movement of the concerto, Andante, was as much an aria as the opening piece on the program. The closing rondo was full of merriment, a fitting sense of fun. Throughout the concerto, Piemontesi interpolated a number of phrases and notes—including a little upward glissando toward the end.
I have not yet commented on Maestro Noseda. He is an elegant and aristocratic musician (and man). He maintained the spine, the pulse, of the concerto. For years and years, I wrote of the “bounce” that James Levine would put into his Mozart (whether in the opera house or in the concert hall). Noseda has that same bounce.
The applause had all but tapered out (speaking of tapering), but Piemontesi returned for an encore. He does not always play Mozart after a Mozart concerto. I once heard him play a Schubert impromptu (divinely). But he did on this occasion: a variation from the final movement of the Sonata in D, K. 284. He played it with beautiful simplicity. ’Tis the gift to be simple.
The two soloists for this program were well integrated. They performed together in the concert aria. The pianist stayed for the concerto. And the soprano returned for the Mahler—for the last movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. But we have other movements to discuss first.
I have mentioned Levine’s “bounce,” and Noseda’s. Do you know that this bounce was present in the opening movement of the Mahler? It was—bounce plus the desired gracefulness. The playing was unusually flavorful. I had never heard so much humor in this movement—even impudence. The ending was tight, tight—in a good way (crisp and unified).
Noseda shaped the second movement with exceptional musicality. The music was folkish, quirky, weird. Just what the doctor ordered (or the composer ordered).
The next movement, the slow movement, is one of the most beautiful things Mahler ever wrote. On Wednesday night, it was transcendent from the beginning. The playing was tasteful—but not too tasteful, if I may. Noseda got the maximum out of it, with no overemoting. This was a great experience, the slow movement alone.
Question: When should the soprano enter? When should she enter the stage? There is no good answer. You don’t want the audience to applaud the soprano. That would spoil the mood of the symphony. Golda Schultz entered toward the end of the second movement—and sat, facing the audience, during the third.
Another question: What is the difference between the singing of “Ch’io scordi di te?” and the singing of the last movement of Mahler 4? Not much. The song in Mahler’s symphony is rather Mozart-like. Indeed, the whole symphony has been called Mahler’s “Classical symphony” or his “Mozart symphony.”
First to sing, or “sing,” in the last movement is the clarinet. The New York Philharmonic’s Anthony McGill sang just as the clarinet should. And Ms. Schultz, a.k.a. Golden Golda? She was maybe not as pure in the Mahler as she had been in the Mozart—but the sheer affection she expressed, the sheer love, counted for a lot.
This was an immensely satisfying concert. Excellent musicians and excellent music—a good idea.