Glorious singing and lively conducting make for wonderful night of Mozart and Haydn with New World Symphony

By David Fleshler

Nicholas McGegan led the New World Symphony in music of Haydn and Mozart Saturday night at New World Center.

The late 18th century spawned the mature string quartet, symphony and two of classical music’s greatest composers. Yet works from that period appear only occasionally on the programs of symphony orchestras, yielding in popularity to the larger-scale compositions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The New World Symphony devoted a concert Saturday in Miami Beach to the two giants of the period, Haydn and Mozart, aided by the gorgeous, silvery singing of the American soprano Cyndia Sieden and the energetic, inspired conducting of early-music specialist Nicholas McGegan.

The British-born McGegan, longtime director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco, brings 18th century works to life without the pedantic fussiness that sometimes attends “correct” performances of these compositions.

His energy was apparent from the start, as he walked on stage at New World Center with the stride of someone in a speeded-up silent movie and barely took time to acknowledge applause before striking up the first notes of Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro.  While the typical symphonic concert doesn’t offer much to look at, McGegan’s conducting is a sight. Forget the typical time-beater waving a baton. McGegan doesn’t use a baton, but just uses broad gestures of his hands, appearing alternately like a football referee and a man waving his arms in an animated political argument as he guided the orchestra through the evening.

But from these odd gestures, emerged lively, tightly played performances of two Haydn symphonies, No. 30, known as the Alleluia symphony, and number 103, known as the Drumroll. McGegan was clearly more interested in producing effective performances for contemporary audiences than antiquarian reproductions from another era. To begin with, he didn’t reduce the orchestra to the size Haydn had, but instead used one Haydn presumably would have wanted. If the full string section of the New World Symphony wasn’t on stage, it was close to it.

The performances were big and dramatic. The Symphony No. 30 was full of rich orchestral colors, spidery, sinister notes in the winds and crescendos that arrived in sudden surges. The performance of the Symphony No. 103, was emphatic, with thumping timpani, sudden changes from loud to soft, and sweeping, jubilant outbursts in the strings. But there was no lack of subtlety or style in the performance, which flowed naturally, with no sense that the conductor was imposing dramatics that weren’t there.

The second movement was almost Romantic in style, with lush playing from the large complement of strings and dramatic thunderbolts from the trumpets. In the last movement, McGegan deftly dealt with the music’s contrapuntal complexity, keeping melodic lines clear while reveling in the sounds around them. The New World musicians responded to McGegan’s conducting with turn-on-a-dime precision and the unity of a chamber ensemble.

Cynthia Sieden Photo: Christian Steiner

As impressive as McGegan’s Haydn was, the highlight of the concert was Sieden’s performances of vocal works by Mozart, aided by a hall that’s more flattering to the human voice than the orchestra’s previous Lincoln Theatre home. The fresh, youthful quality of Sieden’s voice perfectly matched the music of Mozart’s early Exsultate Jubilate. She sang the quick melodic lines with a tightly focused voice, effortless virtuosity and joyous buoyancy that recalled the early Mozart instrumental concertos with which this work is often compared. In the rapid notes of her coloratura singing, there was neither icy precision nor the virtuoso intensity of someone desperate to get through the notes, just confident mastery and pleasure in the music.

In the concert aria Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! Sieden produced smoothly ornamented melodies and melting pianissimo melodies at the top of her register. In No, no che non sei capace, she gave a performance of fiery virtuosity in the passionate, rapid-fire coloratura.

The New World Symphony repeats the program 2 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach., 800-597-3331.

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Sun Oct 28, 2012
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