Saturday night Emmanuel Music gathered under the baton of Ryan Turner with Beethoven to open its 2013-14 season. The Egmont Overture gave way to a selection of less frequently heard arias; the Triple Concerto, featuring BMInt’s Robert Levin, rounded out the polished program.
On the small raised chancel of Emmanuel Church’s sanctuary, Ryan Turner led the 36 musicians of Emmanuel Music in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, op. 84. Composed for a production of Goethe’s namesake drama in 1810 Vienna, it overture begins with the thunder and excitement we associate with Beethoven. The discovery here came from hearing this work performed by smaller forces, giving plenty of sound but retaining a clearer texture which left all the lines more accessible. The tempo struck me as slower than some, perhaps an accommodation to the church’s resonant acoustics, yet the work never lost momentum. The drama’s culminating triumph of good over evil found its portrayal in the sunny brass conclusion. This was an exciting and polished reading and an auspicious opening.
Next came five selections for voice and orchestra. Charles Blandy, tenor, sang the aria “O Welch ein Leben” from the Singspiel Die schöne Schusterin, WoO 91. Blandy’s light tone, fronting the delicate and nuanced accompaniment of the orchestra, embodied the hedonistic words of the Baron in this piece. Unfortunately for me Blandy’s variable pronunciation of the German text created a disconnect between the words, their import, and the music. Blandy was joined by Susan Consoli, soprano, for Ne’ giorni tuoi felici, WoO 93; dating from Beethoven’s studies with Salieri in 1801-02, this setting of a text by Metastasio is a duet of love and heartbreak which, musically, prefigures the writing in Fidelio. Consoli brought a bel canto support and flexibility to her role. Paul Max Tipton, baritone, gave a bravura performance of Mit Mädeln sich vertragen, WoO 90. This delightful setting of a comedic text by Goethe recounts a happy wastrel’s life with women’s wanted attentions and men’s more violent ones. Tipton’s comfort with the text, combined with the varied vocal colors to match the shifting moods of the text and a wonderfully comedic sense of presentation and timing were delightful. Consoli was emotionally powerful and highly poignant in the concert aria Ah! Perfido…Per pietà, op. 65 (1796). A setting of words again by Metastasio, it calls for the rage of a spurned lover, and the pleading plangency of a sadly jilted lover, in turn. Consoli embodied both sides gloriously. The final vocal selection brought Blandy, Consoli, and Tipton to the front of the crowded stage for Tremate, empi, tremate, op. 116. Using words by da Gamerra for an opera by Sarti, Beethoven set this text during his time studying with Salieri. Tipton embodied wrath in the face of the delicacy sung by Blandy and Consoli as lovers united; this heightened the contrast in this piece and made a miniature drama of the trio. Throughout these vocal selections I was struck by the Mozartian classicism in Beethoven, even as it veered off in newer directions that earlier composer had not explored. The well-thought-out program delineated the faces of love as expressed in vocal music. The orchestral collaboration was tasteful and polished with only a few intonation problems in the winds (the flutes in Ah! Perfido being one example) marring here, and elsewhere in the evening, the burnished sheen of these performances.
Following intermission the crowded chancel welcomed Robert Levin, piano; Heather Braun, violin; and Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; for Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” in C, op. 56. I’ve no idea how the stage accommodated all, even as I saw the staging happen. Given that the piano keyboard was upstage so Levin faced out to the audience from behind the grand piano even as Braun and Popper-Keizer clung to the edge of the chancel platform, it is remarkable the three soloists remained in such tight cohesion and communication throughout. Much of this may be as much due to Braun’s pivotal role in connecting Levin and Popper-Keizer, who quite simply could not see one another with any ease whatsoever, as it was to Turner’s clear and attuned direction. There was a good balance between soloists and orchestra leaving all the lines of the music audible and allowing me to appreciate anew the precise and innovative composition of this classical triple concerto which is simultaneously more and less than an updated Baroque concerto grosso. The opening Allegro attained a stately nobility initiated by Levin’s continuo playing then furthered by the delicacy and marvelous tone of Braun’s violin playing. Popper-Keizer shone in the second movement Largo, especially the cello’s tender opening. The concluding Rondo alla Pollacca took on a very Mozartian air as all brought an effortless grace to this music.