Above: baritone Brett Polegato, one of tonight's soloists at Carnegie Hall
Saturday October 27th, 2012 -The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra brought three 20th century works to Carnegie Hall in a wonderfully crafted evening under the baton of Robert Spano. My front row seat put me right at the heart of things, beneath a row of lovely cellists that I could have reached out and touched. This was my third evening at Carnegie in a week's time, and I felt so at home there.
I chose this programme because I wanted to hear the Canadian baritone Brett Polegato; his voice intrigued me when I first heard him singing on a tape of the 1995 Cardiff Competition which my friend Mollie had so kindly sent me. It's taken me all this time to hear him 'in person' and it was well worth the wait; my impressions of him from that tape proved totally valid: he's a first-rate singer.
But to start at the beginning, Mr. Spano opened the programme with Copland's APPALACHIAN SPRING, by far the best-known of the evening's three weeks. In classical music, familiarity can breed not so much contempt as a taking for granted of certain works. If you say 'NUTCRACKER' or "Eine kleine nachtmusik', people will shrug and smirk and say "Again?" But these pieces are popular for a reason.
Listening to the Atlanta players in the Copland, I realized again how really original and purely enjoyable this score is. And it put me so much in mind of my recent links with the Martha Graham Dance Comany and with the Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi who designed the sets for Graham's iconic ballet. Tonight APPALACHIAN SPRING felt like the masterpiece that it is, so lovingly played.
CHICHESTER PSALMS is one of the few Leonard Bernstein works that I admire, and possibly the only one that truly enjoy. I actually came to know this music thru Peter Martins' ritualistc setting at New York City Ballet. Its rhythmic freshness and its heartfelt melodic strands make it so appealing, and tonight we had an adult male soprano rather than a boy treble; John Holiday's gorgeous tone stole gleamingly into the huge Hall. His voice gave the music an erotic/exotic throb that a boy singer could never produce. The audience gave Mr. Holiday a rousing cheer as he bowed, and he very much deserved it.
William Walton's BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST was an early success for the composer and it sounded magnificent last night as played and sung by the musicians and chorus of the Atlanta Symphony. The work tells the story of the proverbial writing on the wall, and of Belshazzar's demise and the triumph of godliness. It plays out strikingly, though it does seem to me that Walton became just a shade long-winded in the final pages of the score: he doesn't seem to know when to stop. Be that as it may, it was an inspired performance all round.
Brett Polegato's noble tone sailed out into the Hall with warmth, focus and power, his exemplary clarity of diction making reference to the printed texts unnecessary. In the unaccompanied passage 'Babylon was a great city...' the singer forged a direct link with the audience, his voice speaking to us with remarkable directness and emotional force.
The evening posed the question, why isn't Brett Polegato at The Met? And why, for that matter, isn't Mr. Spano there as well? They are both masters of their respective crafts.
You can experience their work on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Vaughan-Williams SEA SYMPHONY.
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Robert Spano, Music Director and Conductor
- John Holiday, Countertenor
- Brett Polegato, Baritone
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus
Norman Mackenzie, Director of Choruses
- COPLAND Appalachian Spring
- BERNSTEIN Chichester Psalms
- WALTON Belshazzar's Feast