Trio of Soloists Adds Luster to MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Mahler, Copland, Barber, Herrmann: Stephen Williamson and Anthony McGill (clarinets), Renée Fleming (soprano), The MET Orchestra, Fabio Luisi (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York City. 15.1.2012 (BH)

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 (1791)
Mahler: Rückert-Lieder (1901-1092)
Copland: Clarinet Concerto (1947-1948)
Barber: “Give Me Some Music” from Antony and Cleopatra (1966)
Herrmann: “I Have Dreamt” from Wuthering Heights (1951)
Barber: “Do Not Utter a Word” from Vanessa (1956-57)

It would be difficult to imagine a more generous afternoon at Carnegie Hall than what Fabio Luisi and the MET Orchestra offered here, with not one but three soloists, each in mesmerizing form, and the ensemble sounding larger-than-life. Stephen Williamson, former MET principal clarinet and now with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra , made Mozart’s demanding Clarinet Concerto seem easy, abetted by comparable ease from Luisi and the musicians. In the first movement, Williamson offered bright yet plush tone, coupled with an acrobat’s ability to vault across the room and land like a butterfly on the opposite side. His control in the idyllic Adagio – with sublime pianissimos – was a marvel, and in the final Rondo, his playfulness was matched by pristine articulation – a reading of divine agility and humor.

Later in the program, Anthony McGill, the current principal clarinet, brought down the house with a deeply felt, immaculately executed Copland Clarinet Concerto. McGill nailed the first movement’s grand arc and yearning, with Luisi coaxing a lush complement in the orchestra. A dazzling cadenza serves as a bridge to the second movement marked “Rather fast,” and here McGill seemed completely confident – smiling and grooving with the double basses in camaraderie – that is, when he wasn’t leaning back, eyes closed, to immerse the hall in his bubbling tone.

Before intermission (the first of her two appearances), Renée Fleming was the centerpiece of a carefully conceived Mahler Rückert-Lieder, with luminous accents from the ensemble. In the second stanza of the solemn “Um Mitternacht” (“At Midnight”), the orchestration opens up like a vista suddenly revealed, and in the final “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the World”), if Fleming showed less ache and weariness than some, she more than compensated with sheer tone and intimacy. Following the Copland, she returned with a fiery “Give Me Some Music” from Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra and the stormy “Do Not Utter a Word” from the composer’s Vanessa. In between came “I Have Dreamt,” Bernard Hermann’s exquisite aria from Wuthering Heights, and in all three, Fleming’s mastery – especially her phrasing – seemed even more palpable than in the Mahler. Summoned back for an encore, she offered a delicious one: “I Can Smell the Sea Air” from André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Bruce Hodges