United States Borodin, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov: Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louis Langrée (conductor), Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio. 15.5.2015 (RDA).
Borodin: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances is wonderful music even out of its context, the second act of his only opera, Prince Igor. In the opera, Konchak, Khan of the Polovetsi invaders treats his Christian “guest” (the captured Igor) to an array of dancing, notably a sensuous moderato for the nubile maidens of the tribe, led by Konchakovna, the Khan’s daughter. This tune would attain wide popularity a hundred years later in Kismet, thanks to the Broadway team of Forrest and Wright, who transformed Borodin’s original melody into “Stranger in Paradise.”
The three-dance suite begins quietly, then moves to a lively middle section in which the woodwinds strut their stuff, ending in an exhilarating hopak which the Cincinnati musicians, led by Louis Langrée, played at warp speed with utmost accuracy and musicality.
Ravel’s Shéhérazade, a cycle of songs for soprano, was impeccably sung with idiomatic French style and faultless diction by Michelle DeYoung, whose singing ranged from intimate (yet fully audible) to full-throated. She rode the tessitura—high at times, low in at others—with utter confidence at both ends of the scale. The American singer possesses a true dramatic mezzo-soprano voice (her repertory lists a handful of Wagner and Verdi roles), and a talent for judiciously placing it at the service of text and music. As it happened, Ms. De Young graciously stepped in at the last minute for an ailing colleague. I hope she is invited back next season for a concert in which she is the announced and featured soloist.
The program concluded with a vibrant performance of Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade. As the solo violinist, concertmaster Timothy Lee gave a memorable performance throughout the tale’s six episodes. The orchestra played fiercely, feelingly, and rhapsodically, and all the while cohesively; the outstanding work of one section never outshone or unbalanced the rest of the ensemble.
This final concert made a fitting closing to the season, but to help Cincinnati audiences get through the sizzling summer, the orchestra will play some outdoor concerts. That’s our city: beloved for its arts, despised for its erratic weather patterns.
Rafael de Acha