Noseda celebrates Italy with Rossini and Dante in choral showcase

Fri May 17, 2019 at 12:15 am

Gianandrea Noseda conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in music of Liszt and Rossini Thursday night at the Kennedy Center.

Italy’s Festa della Repubblica will be celebrated in Washington on May 30. The National Symphony Orchestra started the festivities early with a celebration of Italian culture Thursday night, with Gianandrea Noseda leading two big dramatic works with chorus. After one more performance in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, they will take the show on the road for an appearance at Carnegie Hall on Sunday.

Noseda continued his championship of the tone poems and program symphonies of Franz Liszt. Following an angelic Faust Symphony in February, the Italian music director Thursday led the NSO’s first-ever performance of the Dante Symphony. Noseda’s interpretation was taut and compact, blazing through the apocalyptic opening, with its menacing trombones and doubled timpani.

His gestures, insistent and even frantic, urged the musicians on through careening accelerations, not always with complete unity–shortcomings that will hopefully get ironed out by the time of the New York performance. The groans and cries of hell surged upward, with chromatic squalls of sound from the strings and squealing piccolo alternating with melancholy solos from bass clarinet and paired clarinets.

The harp’s tinkling accompaniment of the English horn solo was a particular highlight, leading us further into the depths of hell. March-like ostinato patterns cranked up the intensity again and again as the first movement came to a fitful end.  Gently rippling strings and harp murmured behind solos from oboe and English horn in the “Purgatorio” movement, marked by chorale-like writing for horns and winds and an orderly fugue in the strings.

Some more ensemble roughness in the second movement was quickly forgotten when selected women from the University of Maryland Concert Choir took up the “Magnificat” that ends the piece. They made a limpid, rarefied sound singing these Latin words matched with musical gestures like eyes raised expectantly toward the heavens. The apotheosis of the piece, a series of mysterious chord progressions on the words “Hosanna” and “Alleluia,” was rapturous.

This performance of Rossini’s Stabat mater was the second in just a year at the Kennedy Center, after the one given by the Choral Arts Society of Washington last May. The entire University of Maryland Concert Choir filled the choral risers, producing a full range of balanced dynamics and remaining on pitch in the unaccompanied movements. Of the latter, the “Quando corpus morietur” was especially affecting, with perfectly tuned chromatic lines and crisply unified staccato attacks.

Noseda’s quartet of vocal soloists was young, but they sang with steady focus and considerable beauty, more as a group than individually. Tenor Michele Angelini was bold of voice, nailing the high D-flat at the end of his “Cujus animam” aria. Occasionally he was too light to be heard over the orchestra, and he muffed one entrance in the “Sancta Mater” movement, although he quickly recovered.

Bass Marko Mimica was strong on the top notes of “Pro peccatis,” but at other times the orchestra also outplayed him in volume. Mezzo-soprano Chiara Amarù used her smoky tone to great advantage in “Fac ut portem,” while soprano Erika Grimaldi lacked the last bit of firepower to lift her over the amassed chorus and orchestra in the explosive “Inflammatus” movement.

The NSO sounded more rarefied and united in the Rossini, with a smaller number of players and careful attention to balances from Noseda. Their brooding playing in the introduction set the stage beautifully for Rossini’s poignant setting of the first stanza of Latin text. Noseda went for maximum drama throughout the piece, making the brass unison calls and insistent choir exclamations (“in die judicii!”) in the “Inflammatus” movement shake the heart, as if on Judgment Day itself.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday at the Kennedy Center and 2 p.m. Sunday at Carnegie Hall in New York.; 202-467-4600

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