Gianandrea Noseda Scores in the Outskirts

By Sedgwick Clark

My introduction to Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda was his emotionally devastating performance of Britten’s War Requiem with the London Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center in October 2011. Since then I’ve made a point of hearing as many of his New York concerts as possible. He has been hereabouts for the past three months, leading a glowing, ambitious new edition of Borodin’s unfinished Prince Igor and a warmly expressive Andrea Chénier at the Met, a revelatory Israel Philharmonic tour concert on March 29 at NJPAC in Newark, and Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony (“Organ”) with the Philadelphia Orchestra on home territory in Verizon Hall on April 13, which I happily heard for the first time with a genuine pipe organ.

Let’s deal with the revelation straight off—the first time in my experience that the Israel Philharmonic, of which Noseda is principal guest conductor, has sounded like a decent orchestra. What is an orchestra supposed to do: play together, right? For at least 35 years, to my ears, the IPO has sounded like an orchestra at odds with itself—a group of aspirant soloists, to be kind; or as a fellow music lover used to say, a ragtag bunch of gypsies. With coarse, arid tone besides. Wonder of wonders, Noseda had these musicians playing an all-French program not only precisely but also beautifully in NJPAC’s warm, clear acoustics.

I arrived late for Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande suite (an indication, perhaps, of my trepidation at hearing the IPO after years of avoidance). But Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) suite and the second suite from Daphnis et Chloé instantly put me at ease with their excellent ensemble, transparent textures, and tonal beauty. The IPO’s heretofore unruly strings positively shimmered under their conductor’s leadership. Now, Maestro Noseda, how about Ravel’s complete ballet scores of these works with the Israelis?

Pungent woodwinds and dynamic timpani were only some of the welcome details in Noseda’s Berlioz Symphonie fantastique. He took the first-movement repeat but not the usually ignored one in the brief March to the Scaffold; I would have loved the repeat because of the delightfully grotesque blat of the trombone (or was it an actual opheclide, as Berlioz requests?). I heartily approve that he included the optional cornet in the second movement, but I thought the player too reticent to fully register the cackling ostinato rhythms and military color of the instrument. The balance was the same on a live recording Noseda made with the IPO in January, released by Helicon in time for the tour, so it was evidently what he intended. If the malevolence of the Witches’ Sabbath finale seemed a bit tame to me, I nevertheless found much instrumental detail to savor. Noseda’s accomplishments with this orchestra remain amazing.

Two weeks later he was on the podium of one of the world’s great ensembles, the Philadelphia Orchestra, leading Saint-Saëns’s “Organ” Symphony. Astonishingly, neither of New York’s major concert halls has a real organ. One must travel to Philly or Boston to hear one in a proper-size hall. Noseda certainly has the measure of this glorious Romantic masterwork. Moreover, no recording ever made, in any living or listening room I know, no matter how capacious and acoustically treated, can beat the Verizon Hall pipe organ’s fortissimo outburst in the flesh.

In the program’s first half, Noseda led Symphonic Fragments from the opera La donna serpente by Alfredo Casella. The conductor has performed and recorded works by Casella and other lesser-known 20th-century Italian composers. The music is tuneful and pleasant when so expertly performed. But Respighi he is not, except when parts of Fountains of Rome creep into the beginning of the second fragment.

Canadian violinist James Ehnes’s reputation for beautiful tone was vividly on display in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, a lyrical work contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet. Where some fiddlers find traces of diablerie and sarcasm from the composer’s earlier style, Ehnes emphasized the creamy melodies and long line to luscious effect, ideally accompanied by Noseda. The two have recorded all of Prokofiev’s violin music for Chandos.

Noseda will conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Choral”) in New York at the Mostly Mozart Festival in August, and on December 7 at Carnegie Hall he will lead the Teatro Regio Torino, of which he has been music director since 2007, in a concert performance of Rossini’s William Tell.


Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts (8:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted):

4/21 Symphony Space at 7:30. Cutting Edge Concerts/Victoria Bond. Blue Streak Ensemble. Robert Paterson: Sextet. Margaret Brouwer: Inner Voices (premiere). Victoria Bond: Clara (excerpts). David T. Little: descanso (waiting). Jonathan Tunick: Trio (premiere). Margaret Brouwer: Shattered Glass (N.Y. premiere).

4/23 Zankel Hall at 6:00. Tuvan Throat Singing. Pärt: Passio.

Comments are closed.