New York Philharmonic’s Spring Season
God is dead.
That doesn’t just come from Nietzsche. His disappearance from the world was proven as well by an often gorgeous but noticeably secular performance as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Spring Season on Friday.
The orchestra performed two works by Mozart: his "Piano Concerto #22 in E-Flat and his Great Mass in C-Minor."
The second of the two pieces, presented after intermission, often seemed to have the religiosity of a toilet bowl cleanser commercial. Especially out of synch with the composer’s intentions was mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano. The redheaded Cano has a creamy voice. But she sang with the blithe temper and energetic cheeriness one associates with Rosina in "The Barber of Seville."
Performed in the anesthetic confines of Avery Fisher Hall, the work offered both the best and worst that comes of contemporary performances of spiritual music. Maestro Alan Gilbert showed once more his skill as a Mozart conductor. He is able to find the composer’s wit without losing his majesty or his grace.
Yet, even with the superb playing of the orchestra and the fine singing of the New York Choral Artists, the combination of Cano’s goofy performance and the hall itself robbed the work of much of its somber, God-fearing power.
This only came fully forth in the choral passages and when soprano Jennifer Zetlan provided her much more earnest and heartfelt voice.
Much better was the concert’s opener, the Piano Concerto #22. Written in the heroic key of e-flat, the piece features a contrasting slow movement, which is one of Mozart’s most melting. And with legendary pianist Emanuel Ax at the keyboard, the audience would not be disappointed. Ax has the sense not to fight the piano or to impose a hammily dramatic style. Though his playing is surely not actually effortless, it seems to be impressively so.
The effect was simple, clear and poignant. Inevitably you were reminded of Tchaikovsky’s comment that, "Mozart is the musical Christ." You could only wish that the original figure of divinity had been exhibited somewhat more plainly in the concert’s second half.
New York Philharmonic’s Spring Season continues through July 10 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. For more info or tickets visit the New York Philharmonic’s website.