René Pape and Angela Gheorghiu, and Valery Gergiev leading the World Orchestra for Peace (!). I got a student ticket and joined the respectful throng (the audience was remarkably, impressively quiet.) The concert itself achieved great moments, but also had some odd and even jarring ones.
The program was organized to commemorate landmarks in Solti's storied career, and so began with the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, led at a driving pace by Gergiev, the orchestra's dark tone emphasizing the madness of the day rather than the sanguine grace of the omniscient composer. The low strings and the bassoon were impressive, but I missed some of Mozart's precision, and much of his joy. Notably more detailed was the account of Richard Strauss's Don Juan (available here under Solti.) The dynamics and phrasing had the instruments seeming to respond to each other, intimately and directly, as well as to the conductor; the tone poem was given with an engaging sweep. Gergiev led off with brash energy, but brought dynamic variation and dramatic tension to the piece as a whole, with subtly fluttering strings and fine solo work from the trumpets and French horns, flute and oboe.
After the fine Strauss came the operatic interlude which had done much to draw me to the concert. Rene Pape sang "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" so beautifully that it really ought to contribute to world peace, filling the hall with powerful, smooth, burnished sound. Then Angela Gheorghiu took center stage--in the fullest possible sense--for "Addio del passato"... with the letter-reading, for what diva could be expected to give it up? Gheorghiu was not always perfectly audible when speaking, but she read with intense expression, and when she sang, she owned every moment of the music. To Gheorghiu's great credit, it felt less like a showpiece (Diva Sings Famous Excerpt of Parade Role!) and more like... well, like a passionate woman confronting her mortality, angry and afraid. She took a crescendo on the last lines which made Violetta's final plea unusually aggressive in her despair; and the audience went wild. Pape and Gheorghiu countered their respective profound presentations with a light-hearted "Là ci darem la mano," which worked much better than one might expect it to with a bass as Don Giovanni and a famous diva in a slinky black-sequined dress as Zerlina. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and made the duet both sensual and hilarious. Youthful artists from Solti's brainchild-programs gave the Rigoletto quartet, which would seem hard to beat as an effective showcase for several talents at once. This was especially true since conductor Cristian Macelaru seemed very comfortable with the score, plunging at once into its violence and giving a reading both lucid and grimly cynical. Matilda Paulsson, as Maddalena, seemed to have a fine voice, but I had some trouble hearing her; Roberto Ortiz, the Duke, came to grief over his high notes but pressed on. As Gilda, Tereza Gevorgyan focused her sound and diction admirably. To me, the young Rigoletto was the most impressive: Ross Ramgobin sang with expressive phrasing and attention to text.
The last two pieces on the program contrasted in both mood and execution. The Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth was given, but, strangely, failed to fully cohere. In terms of interpretation, I found it interesting, with a rejection of schwelgerisch exaggeration made clear from the first notes of the harp, more assertively passionate than usual. However, there were lapses in timing which distracted, making the great waves of sound seem muddied. At the outset, the strings were briefly beset by tuning problems (the entire orchestra retuned before the Bartok.) I confess to some apprehension, in the wake of the Mahler mishaps, about the demanding Concerto for Orchestra, but in the event it was a highlight of the evening. All sections contributed distinguished work, and the conversations between them did not sacrifice grace to maintaining dramatic tension. The concerto is a work I find tremendously exciting, and as performed here, it was fleet and lilting and exuberant, with enough weight to keep it interesting. Bartok's integration and transformation of musical languages yields thrilling results; moreover, I confess to a simple and uncritical delight in a finale which requires a full string section of world-class musicians to do what I am sorely tempted to describe as fiddling madly. Those in the audience who didn't dash for the doors applauded long.