I do not go to hear performances of Monteverdi very often – indeed, I cannot recall hearing a live performance of Monteverdi since the 1980s – but when I do, I want them to sound like tonight’s.
The New York Continuo Collective presented excerpts from three Monteverdi operas this evening: L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, and L’Orfeo. The mix of amateur and semi-professional musicians gave a spirited and intelligent presentation at a very high standard, under music director Grant Herreid. The interpretation remained light – at times, toe-tappingly so. The simple semi-staged scenes enabled the collection of singers (often sharing roles – in one case even tag-teaming) to demonstrate an infectious enthusiasm.
I had not planned on any concerts until the Salzburg Festival this Summer, an unusual gap of two months. So I suppose I was bound to fill it when a ticket opened up in the packed Musikverein this evening for a concert of the Vienna Conservatory’s Webern Symphony Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov. I can now testify that the future of Mozart and Mahler in the Musikverein sounds secure.
Pairing Mozart’s Piano Concerto #20 and Mahler’s Symphony #5 on the program had a certain logic. Both start in minor, somewhat foreboding, but end in a triumphant major. Without resorting to stereotype for such arrangements, Bychkov still drew out the transformation – these are not just fate-conquering works, but a positive trip through a troubled world. Bychkov restrained the orchestra for much of the darker moments, yet always pushed forward, never dragging. This allowed the youthful orchestra to demonstrate its exuberance during the brighter passages. A lot of happiness shone through here.
At the keyboard for the Mozart sat Jasminka Stančul, whose hands almost hovered above the keys and simply coaxed the music effortlessly out of the piano. She and the orchestra spoke the same language and their instrumental voices blended beautifully.