Neale leads New World Symphony in rich and full-blooded Elgar
Alasdair Neale stepped onto the podium at the New World Center in Miami Beach Saturday night, reached down and closed the red-bound score of Elgar’s Enigma Variations that had been laid out for him.
Neale would conduct from memory, leading the New World Symphony in a rich, warm, full-blooded account of Elgar’s most popular work, a performance that likely sounded fresh even to those veteran concertgoers who may feel that could live without another hearing of this piece.
Long the principal guest conductor of the New World Symphony, Neale made no attempt to wrest anything particularly new from the work. He just drew a technically accomplished, tightly wrought, musically wide-ranging performance of a work he has mastered and from an orchestra he knows intimately. And having grown up in Great Britain and earned a degree from Cambridge University, Neale was not on foreign territory.
The variations are portraits of Elgar’s acquaintances, and as each one was performed, a photograph of the person in question was projected above the stage, yielding a very English procession of handlebar moustaches and stiff poses.
This was not a performance for those who prefer their Elgar served up with Edwardian understatement. For the sudden, passionate climax of the first variation, inspired by the composer’s wife, Neale raised his left hand high, shaking it back and forth like a violinist generating vibrato, to draw tones of immense intensity from the orchestra. The Troyte variation came off with thumping, headlong energy, with fine, throaty yet nimble playing in the trombones. The cello section solo of B.G.N. was played with great ardor and tonal beauty.
The famous Nimrod variation played to the strengths of both orchestra and conductor, as Neale led the ensemble through a grave opening in the strings — soft, yet full and rounded — through a stately crescendo to a climax marked by lustrous brass playing. The mysterious build up to the finale grew in power magnificently. Equally compelling were the more playful passages, such as the wind and strings dialogue of the Dorabella variation.
Soprano Karina Gauvin joined the orchestra’s string section for a sensuous performance of Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, a 1939 setting of poems by Arthur Rimbaud. The Canadian singer has a large, plush voice that fared much better in the New World’s new hall than it likely would have at the orchestra’s old home at the acoustically challenged Lincoln Theatre. Her soft high notes in the poem Sentences projected effortlessly. In the song Antiques, she engages in a lyrical dialogue with a solo violin that was an evocative, romantic love song. And in Seascape, she engaged in powerful, agitated runs delivered with great agility for a voice of such weight. She was at her most compelling in the more lyric songs, such as Being Beauteous, where her pianissimo high notes floated on clouds of sensuous harmonies in the orchestra.
The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, his “other” G-minor symphony. Neale drew a tight, crisp performance from the orchestra in the outer movements, giving the music a stringent austerity and tautness. Horns had persistent trouble in the first movement. But in general the orchestra was extremely responsive to his conducting, playing with impressive unity in the quick crescendos and sudden emphases on particular notes that he demanded from them.
The New World Symphony repeats the program 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. www.nws.edu; 305-673-3331.
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Sun Mar 27, 2011
at 1:23 pm