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Soirée Française: New York Philharmonic, Summertime Classics

- Classical and Cultural Connections

New York Philharmonic

(Summertime Classics Website)
Soirée Française

Lorin Maazel, Music Director

Bramwell Tovey, Conductor
Laura Claycomb, Soprano
Beth Clayton, Mezzo-soprano

Performed at Avery Fisher Hall
Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 10, 2005

(Read More NY Philharmonic Summertime Classics Reviews).

Paul Dukas (1865-1935): Fanfare to precede La Péri (1912). The NY Philharmonic first played this piece in 1984 under Sir Andrew Davis and last played it in 2002 under David Alan Miller. The work relates to a mythical Persian fairy and was written for an ill-fated ballet. Dukas later added the brass fanfare to introduce the music. (Program Notes).

Bramwell Tovey was just as chipper this week as ever, in spite of the London catastrophe earlier in the week, which must have been on his mind. Maestro Tovey is a master at entertainment, conducting, and timing. His anecdotes that precede or follow musical presentations are theatrical and richly robust. The Dukas piece was a fitting flourish to introduce this delightful Francophile’s concert. Although the ballet was about a fairy, the Fanfare was brassy and buoyant, no fluttering wings here. There were dissonant contrasts and muffled horns.

Léo Delibes (1836-91): SylviaSuite (1876/1880), Prelude and the Huntresses, Intermezzo and Slow Waltz, Pizzicatos, Procession of Bacchus. This ballet score was first played by the Philharmonic in 1914 under Walter Damrosch and most recently only in 1925 under Willem Mengelberg. Delibes assembled four movements from his Sylvia ballet for this concert Suite. (Program Notes).

My recent experience with Sylvia, the rarely performed ballet, left me wanting for more, where the music was concerned. Luckily, Maestro Tovey chose this piece for the rarely performed repertoire in this New York Philharmonic Summertime Classics series. The Prelude included sensuous strings and heraldic horns, before it was combined with Intermezzo and Slow Waltz. Numerous solos or ensembles of single instruments seemed to create the balletic image of the recent ABT performance at the Met. Flutes were abundant in the Intermezzo, and lilting waltzes were generated by various string effects, including pizzicato violas.

The pizzicato theme was enlarged in the Pizzicatos movement, with the full compliment of strings playing a rapturous theme in pizzicato plucking of strings. Crashing cymbals ended the Procession of Bacchus movement, and I must find the CD of this ballet score.

Delibes: Two Selections from Lakmé: Bell Song, Flower Duet (1881-82). Laura Claycomb and Beth Clayton, soloists. In 1917 The New York Philharmonic first played Bell Song, conducted by Josef Stransky, and most recently, in 1979, performed Flower Duet, conducted by Richard Bonynge, with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, soloists. Lakmé, still frequently performed, is an exotic and romantic opera. (Program Notes).

At this point, the two opera soloists, Laura Claycomb, soprano, and Beth Clayton, mezzo-soprano, were introduced. With an a Capella aria by Ms. Claycomb, Bell Song was transfixing and transcending. This romantic and rapturous theme ends with the soft tolling of the bells. Flower Duet, quite well known, brought both soloists together with the orchestra, but Ms. Clayton’s exquisite and elegant tonalities seemed overwhelmed by Ms. Claycomb’s higher pitched and voluminous abilities. I would wish to hear this once again, soon, with a more aggressive mezzo-soprano.

Georges Bizet (1838-75): L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2 (1872); orch. By Giraud 1876), Pastorale, Intermezzo, Menuetto, Farandole. The New York Philharmonic premiere of this Suite was in 1917 under Josef Stransky, and the most recent Philharmonic performance was in 1977 under Judith Samogi. This music was composed for an 1872 Parisian play by Daudet, which soon closed. However, the music has survived quite well. (Program Notes).

Hours after today’s concert, this splendid Suite played repetitiously in my head. The Philharmonic last performed this work almost thirty years ago, and it was brilliantly conceived to include it in today’s repertoire. I have heard it in contemporary ballet, and this Suite has contrasting themes of dance and bucolic bliss. Remembering Arles, I thought of the gnarled trees embracing a long, narrow path. Vincent van Gogh’s famed “L’Arlesienne” is a gnarled woman with a starched white collar. There was nothing starchy in this piece, but it was proud and poignant.

Bizet: Seguidilla from Carmen (1873-74). Beth Clayton, soloist. The NY Philharmonic first performed this operatic aria in 1988 and most recently in 1954 under Willfrid Pelletier, Blanche Theborn, soloist. This aria relates to Carmen’s seduction of Don José, in the midst of a cigarette factory, with military brawls and mountain hideouts. (Program Notes).

Happily we were to hear Beth Clayton two more times in solo fashion, and in the Seguidilla from Carmen, a most popular aria, Ms. Clayton’s vocalization was seductive, warm, flawless, and fluid. The Philharmonic seemed to enjoy all the works today, and there were smiles all around, while it never overwhelmed the soloist.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Mon coeur s’oeuvre a ta voix from Samson et Dalila (1867-76). Beth Clayton, soloist. This aria was first performed by The New York Philharmonic in 1894 with Walter Damrosch conducting and most recently in 1997 with Valery Gergiev conducting. It took many years for Saint-Saëns to complete this work and for the Parisian audiences to accept it. (Program Notes).

Ms. Clayton gained even confidence in this aria, with mellow, mellifluous, melancholy tones. At times her notes reached high, at times mid-range, as this additional seductive song was performed with smooth assistance from Maestro Tovey and the orchestra.

Jacques Offenbach (1819-80): Orpheus in the Underground Overture (1858; orch. By Binder 1860). This ballet score received its New York Philharmonic premiere in 1914, Josef Stransky conducting, and was most recently performed in 2003 under Sir Andrew Davis. This Overture was orchestrated by the Austrian composer, Carl Binder, along with many of Offenbach’s scores. (Program Notes).

With another entertaining setup by Maestro Tovey, the New York Philharmonic was in perfect timing and temper in this sometimes moody, sometimes mischievous, orchestrated Overture to Offenbach’s luscious ballet score. With Eurydice choosing between three men, as Maestro Tovey put it, the French did what they do best in a crisis; they broke into a Can-Can! The violists obliged his humor, and an occasional, but tiny, leg lift could almost be seen. Prior to the Can-Can, however, there was a sensual cello solo, esoteric and exotic, before the music yielded to frenzied fullness and then a danceable, solo violin rhapsody. One theme kept repeating, with varied string ensembles and solos, but the imminent and intoxicating Can-Can finale brought the audience to its feet.

Kudos to Maestro Bramwell Tovey, and kudos to the versatile New York Philharmonic for Summertime Classics 2005.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at