Thursday December 1st, 2016 - Above, Soprano Ying Fang and principal flautist Robert Langevin were the two featured soloists at this evening's all-Mozart program by The New York Philharmonic. Bernard Labadie was on the podium, conducting the 31st ("Paris") and 39th symphonies; Mr. Langevin stepped center-stage for the flute concerto #2, and the motet Exsultate, jubilate for solo soprano set Ms. Fang in the spotlight.
This very enjoyable performance marked the start of the holiday season, with the Philharmonic players seeming especially happy to have their own Mr. Langevin in soloist mode; Maestro Labadie conducted from a low piano 'bench' placed on the podium. My hope that the wind players would be on risers again - as at the previous NY Philharmonic concert - went for nought.
The "Paris" symphony was composed by Mozart on a commission from the Concert Spirituel in 1778. The symphony employed an unusually large (for the time period) orchestra, including the composer's first use of clarinets in a symphony. While is orchestration is somewhat progressive, the form of the "Paris" symphony sticks to the older three-movement format; it has no minuet.
Mozart, hoping to please the Parisians, incorporated a coup d’archet at the start of his symphony; this was the Concert Spirituel's signature motif: a unison bow-stroke at the opening of a work to display the orchestra's precision.
This is a noble, courtly symphony though Mozart tosses in a few touches of levity along the way, including a scale motif that feels like it's one note too long. In the Andante, two themes seem to converse with one another. The scampering start to the final Allegro put a smile on my face; Maestro Labadie and the musicians engaged us throughout this final movement with their agile playing.
Mozart's 2nd flute concerto began life as an oboe concerto; in switching the solo part, the composer also transposed the work from C major to D major. This "borrowing" went un-noticed until 1920, when the original parts for oboe surfaced in Salzburg.
Mr. Langevin's playing was marked by the tonal radiance we always hear from him whenever the solo flute sings out in the great symphonies which the Philharmonic programs week after week. Tonight, it was so pleasing to have him "up front" for a full twenty minutes, the better to savor his artistry. Remarkable sustained notes and long sentences of coloratura prompted my companion to ask, "Where does he get all this breath from?" He has a formidable technique, to be sure.
Following the dulcetly-played chain of melodies that sustain the concerto's opening Allegro aperto, Mr. Langevin shaped the forlorn theme of the Andante to perfection; one particularly lovely sustained note gave me goosebumps: the sound so clear and pure. In the concluding Rondo, Mozart 'previewed" the theme of Blondchen's aria, "Welche Wonne, welche Lust" from the opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. Here Mr. Langevin's agility was most appealing. Playing his own cadenzas, the flautist gave a lesson in virtuosity wed to artistry. The audience - and his fellow players - gave this great musician a hearty ovation at the concerto's conclusion.
Following the interval, Ying Fang, an alumna of The Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, appeared in a striking full-skirted satiny deep-aqua-green gown. The soprano sounds as lovely as she looks, with many delicious turns of phrase and variants of dynamic as she sang thru the opening Allegro of the Exsultate, jubulate. The voice is clear and silky, projecting clearly into the Hall without any forcing, and displaying a nicely rounded quality in the middle range. The coloratura was deftly handled, though in the swiftest passages I sometimes felt she wasn't quite peaking on the top-most notes. In the Andante, "Tu virginum corona", Ying Fang was at her most captivating, sometimes using straight-tone to angelic effect. She then sailed on to the famous "Alleluia", delighting the audience with her fluent delivery of this joy-filled music. The musicians onstage joined in the enthusiastic applause that greeted the young singer as she took her bows.
Written in 1788, the 39th symphony in E-flat opens with the drum underlining the first notes of an uncharacteristically (for Mozart) slow introduction. Soon the expected Allegro takes over. The Andante con moto begins almost delicately, and there's some nice bassoon work before the music becomes more full-bodied. In the elegant Minuet, I was just able to catch a glimpse of Pascual Martinez Forteza whose clarinet playing - wonderfully subtle - was featured; how I missed the risers tonight when the various wind players piped up this evening.
In the swift Allegro finale, Mozart works the same theme over and over. The symphony ends surprisingly with a final setting of the theme, leaving off the expected punctuating chords that say "The End!" It took a moment for the audience, who seemed poised to hear the music start up again, to react.