New World’s Beethoven soars under Tilson Thomas, soloists

By Lawrence Budmen


Photo by Craig Hall.New World Symphony.

Photo by Craig Hall.New World Symphony.

The New World Symphony celebrated Beethoven the humanist on Saturday at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall. Excerpts from the opera Fidelio, a rescue-drama parable about victory over tyranny, and the Ninth Symphony displayed the heroic side of the master from Bonn.  

            Michael Tilson Thomas led heartfelt, powerfully moving accounts of five selections from Fidelio. Like his mentor Leonard Bernstein (who was a fervent advocate for this troubled score), Tilson Thomas vividly conveyed the profound humanity of Beethoven’s musical vision of conjugal love and liberation. Indeed, so superbly realized were the vocal and instrumental components that one wished for a complete concert version of Fidelio from these forces.  

            After a stately version of the march that introduces the villain Don Pizarro, the rising Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni offered a properly malevolent statement of the evil prison governor’s vengeance aria. The heroine Leonore’s aria Komm Hoffnung is one of Beethoven’s most inspired creations, a noble melody of heroic cast with four horns playing prominent roles in the orchestral fabric. Christine Brewer’s lustrous soprano, evenly produced throughout a vast dramatic range, projected warmth and regal passion.  Brewer’s steely high notes rang the house but her glorious middle register took melodic flight in this dramatic showpiece. Except for a few blurred trills, the New World horn section brought strength and heft to the difficult accompanying figurations.  

            In the hero Florestan’s dungeon monologue, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey seemed like a more lyrical Jon Vickers, phrasing elegantly without over-emoting. Brewer and Griffey’s timbres blended radiantly in the joyous ecstasy of O namenlose Freude, the reunion duet.  Tilson Thomas’ sense of dramatic momentum enhanced the vocal declamation at every turn. 

            The monumental canvass of the Symphony No. 9 in D minor was realized with unhurried eloquence. Tilson Thomas gave renewed attention to Beethoven’s dynamic markings, producing myriad gradations of volume instead of the usual generalized sound palette. The timpani was given its due prominence (as originally envisioned by the composer), brilliantly enumerated by Michael Israelevitch. Contrapuntal writing emerged freshly scrubbed and clearly defined. In the Molto vivace (second movement), the trio section was light and tautly vigorous in the Toscanini manner.  

            Tilson Thomas probed the exalted heights and foreboding depths of the sublime Adagio molto e cantabile while avoiding sappy lyricism. Silky strings blended adroitly with mellow winds.  Beethoven’s ode to universal brotherhood was given rousing voice by the combined forces of the Master Chorale of South Florida and University of Miami Frost Chorale. Under Joshua Habermann’s direction, the women’s choir was unusually precise in flights of glorious song. 

            The tenor solo held no terrors for the excellent Griffey. With Pisaroni bringing bel canto fluidity to the bass proclamations, Kendall Gladen’s dark, agile mezzo perfectly complemented the purity of Brewer’s soft tones. Tilson Thomas’ exciting, headlong thrust in the final choral section concluded a performance that brought new inspiration to one of the seminal works of the musical literature.  
             The New World Symphony repeats the all-Beethoven program 2 p.m. Sunday at the Arsht Center. For tickets and information, call 305-949-6722 or  

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Sun Oct 25, 2009
at 12:45 pm
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