A convivial Schubert program shows that the New World Symphony finally has a congenial home for the voice

By David Fleshler

Franz Schubert

An intense, focused exploration of the musical world of Franz Schubert took place Thursday in the New World Symphony’s new concert hall in Miami Beach, showing that the highly publicized building is more than just a flashy, high-tech addition to the Lincoln Road neighborhood.

Called “A Schubert Journey,” the evening used the auxiliary stages located at various points around the hall to move seamlessly between the German composer’s orchestral, chamber and vocal works for a deeply rewarding look at Schubert’s music.

There were familiar works, such as the song, The Trout, and movements from the composer’s last two symphonies, as well as some real rarities, such as selections from the Schubert’s operas Fierrebras and Alfonso and Estrella – considered difficult to produce for the stage because of their inferior librettos.

The orchestra sounded even more polished than in Wednesday night’s opener. This may have been because artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas moved the basses from the right side of the orchestra to the left or because the musicians were more relaxed after the tension of the opening performance.

Whatever the reason, strings sounded more focused, with a richness and depth to their tone quality in performances of the Overture to The Magic Harp, the Entr’acte No. 3 from Rosamunde, the first movement of the Unfinished Symphony and last movement of the Ninth Symphony. And the different sections of the orchestra were more balanced, with brass playing vigorously but not overwhelming the rest of the orchestra as they sometimes did on opening night.

Although the concert took place with a tone of serious exploration—the audience asked to hold applause until the arrival of each of the two intermissions—the evening had something of the convivial spirit of Schubert, who was known for his Vienna music evenings with friends. Tilson Thomas was conducting at one moment and providing the piano accompaniment to a vocal performance the next. The celebrated pianist Jeremy Denk appeared in a piano duo, then joined other musicians in chamber and vocal works.

The American soprano Laura Aikin was a highlight of the evening. Her performance of Schubert’s song The Trout, accompanied on the piano by Tilson Thomas, was lively, rich-toned and full of personality. The quintet movement based on that melody, which followed from another stage, was plodding by comparison. And one of the very best performances of the evening came when Aikin was joined by Denk and New World clarinetist Jason Shafer for the song Shepherd on the Rock, a performance marked by her high, sustained pianissimos and Shafer’s lithe, full-bodied playing of Schubert’s melancholy melodies.

The University of Miami’s Symphonic Choir and Frost Chorale joined the orchestra for an energetic, lustrous and strongly marked performance of the March and chorus Zu hohen Ruhmespforten from the opera Fierrabras. The songs and choral excerpts showed that the New World Symphony finally has a congenial acoustical home for vocal music, unlike the voice-bleaching Lincoln Theatre,

Not everything was perfect. A piano quintet from an auxiliary stage above the left side of the orchestra sounded muffled from a seat high in the center section, particularly in the strings. Guest violinist Joel Smirnoff had some unsteady moments at the opening of the Quartettsatz. And in an otherwise magnificent performance of Mahler’s arrangement of a movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet, violins were seriously out of tune. But all in all, this was a highly successful evening that showed the orchestra’s new hall could be an instrument for serious, in-depth concerts that kept the attention focused firmly on the music, not the building.

The New World Symphony repeats its opening night concert of Wagner, Ad├Ęs and Copland Friday at 7:30 p.m. The concert will also be shown live on the screening wall facing the adjacent public park, for which admission is free. nws.edu; 305-673-3331.

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Fri Jan 28, 2011
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