Soprano Fleming adorns Schubert program with Noseda, NSO

Sat Jan 19, 2019 at 1:34 pm
By Grace Jean
Renée Fleming

Soprano Renée Fleming performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Schubert songs Friday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

It is perhaps no surprise that soprano Renée Fleming finds Franz Schubert so fascinating. She injected a healthy dose of that wonderment with the composer synonymous with lieder into her first performance with conductor Gianandrea Noseda. The Italian conductor led an all-Schubert program at the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra Friday evening in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

From her first note in “An Sylvia” to the last in “An die Musik,” Fleming brought her hallmark voice—timeless and radiant—to six orchestrated lieder that displayed the depth of her artistry. She was unfailingly fluid at the start of the hour, but it took the better part of the first half for the NSO to catch up in kind, with a few tentative notes initially in the oboe, and its tendency to overshadow the soprano, especially in unison, during “Im Abendrot.”

Fleming never seemed compelled to compete with the orchestra to be heard. Indeed, she seemed to inspire the NSO toward a more balanced partnership. With Noseda’s help, soloist and orchestra overcame a tenuous opening in Max Reger’s orchestration of “Nacht und Träume.” As the NSO achieved a gauzy sustained chord, the soprano added a colorful shimmer to her voice that uplifted the song’s somber expression.

In Benjamin Britten’s orchestration of “Die Forelle,” Fleming sang with a playfulness that was returned in kind by the NSO. Even Noseda bounced side to side in a happy pairing that was punctuated by clarinets in cascading arpeggios. Max Reger’s orchestration of “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” brought out Fleming’s operatic side, with the soprano voicing the verses from Goethe’s “Faust” in an anguished tone. With each passing phrase, Fleming only grew more charismatic in her treatment of the music.

In between the lieder pairings, the NSO offered up selections from the composer’s incidental music to Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern, growing more assured as the evening progressed. By encore time, with Fleming giving Schubert’s “Ave Maria” a loving and glowing turn, soloist and orchestra were hand-in-glove with a nuanced and well-balanced sound.

For the evening’s second half, the NSO opted for Rendering, a work written in 1990 by Luciano Berio. The Italian avant-garde composer took Schubert’s unfinished Tenth Symphony and interspersed his own musical musings inspired by the Austrian’s manuscript. The resulting composition was intended by Berio to be perceived as a refurbishment of a fresco, as Noseda remarked from the stage. Berio’s 20th-century sounds become a connective tissue to fill in the gaps between Schubert’s writing.

Noseda also noted that Schubert, before his untimely death in 1828, had just taken his first lesson on counterpoint two weeks before, and those notations were found scribbled on the same manuscript containing his final symphonic sketches. The NSO, in its first performance of the half-hour piece, proved that the amalgam of 19th- and 20th-century music could work. The musicians dove into Schubert’s manuscript, meticulously articulating phrases and ringing out full declarative passages with verve.

Berio’s writing, in contrast, often set the NSO into an atmospheric mode, with winds and upper strings carrying off in tremolos, trills and runs, and the lower strings and winds overlapping in four- or five-note motifs. The two worlds collided well in a pretty Andante section, with the winds dabbling in triplet melodies and countermelodies before melting away into a triumphant brass chorale section. An edgy trombone blast led into chromatic, almost jazzy riffs in the finale before drifting back into a rhythmic, lilting passage that tempted Noseda onto his tippy-toes to sway along.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday.; 202-467-4600

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