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New York
Avery Fisher Hall
04/23/2004 -  
Hector Berlioz: Les Franc-juges Overture, from La Damnation de faust, Les Nuits d'ete, Les Troyens
Jean Sibelius: Rakastava, Symphony # 7, Songs

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

Of course, there doesn’t have to be a connection between the pieces on a symphonic program, but more often than not these days there is. Last evening at the New York Philharmonic the common thread was the penchant for and the affinities of their principal guest conductor Sir Colin Davis. The maestro has been concentrating on Jean Sibelius of late, leading one of the best concerts of the season right here at Avery Fisher with his own London Symphony this winter. Sir Colin being the world’s leading Berlioz exponent and tidying up the remains of the 200th death year, a coupling of these two underperformed composers was most welcome. Add to the mix the superb Anne Sofie von Otter and all the pieces were assembled for a fine evening.

Ms. Von Otter owns perhaps the finest pure mezzo voice available to a contemporary concert planner and possesses a strong ability and intelligence to manage and husband it properly. One thrills to her lower register, a golden treasury of thick richness. She is also operatically trained and makes the utmost of opportunities to portray characters, in the first half of this affair Marguerite and Dido. Her opening “King of Thule” was so burnished as to make one almost forget the vocal element, the voice instead becoming a disembodied instrument perfectly in sync with principal Cynthia Phelps (how Berlioz loved the viola!) to create one of the most beautiful extended moments in recent memory.

A miscommunication centering around key signature suitability scotched the planned rarity Zaide, but it was replaced with a lively and secure Villanelle emphasizing the impressively flawless diction of this adroit singer. Her death scene as the Carthaginian queen was quietly remarkable, the power and glory evaporated, all remaining the vulnerability of the woman and the venerability of the artist.

After the interval, the two guests presented a well thought out and thoroughly well executed set of Sibelius songs, the most familiar, The Diamond on the March Snow, allowing Ms. Von Otter to soar while the final Black Roses absolutely horrifying in intensity. The orchestra was also at its level of top form (they invariably are for Sir Colin), acing the seldom heard strings only tone poem Rakastava, but struggling through ragged entrances and the addition of their own brass section in the symphony.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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