The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under its new conductor Barnard Labadie appears to have a re-vitalized agenda. The program last Thursday night at Carnegie Hall offered a combination of Baroque and early Romantic music. Opening with a perennial favorite, Felix Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, written in 1830 at the age of twenty-one after a tourist visit to the then deserted islands; the orchestra captured the haunting quality of the march, especially in the horns, yet the climax at the conclusion was merely competent, workmanlike, never entering the realm of thrilling, as strings and timpani were slightly weak.
But this was an excellent concert! Read on! Beatrice Rana, only 26 and 2017 Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year, was on keyboard to play J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, a work that Mendelssohn admired and often played. Here the piano accompanies and converses with the orchestra; this work may have been first written as a violin concerto. Rana delivered delightful fluidity, as well as nuance with every note she struck, as each noted freighted weighted opinion about the orchestral line. There were astonishing twists and turns. She played from memory.
After intermission Rana played Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056; this later work was the forerunner of Mendelssohn’s own three piano concertos where the keyboard asserts itself as the dominating instrument, even taking a short solo that upstages the orchestra. During the opening Allegro the keyboard and orchestra appear to dispute with the keyboard instigating triplets (Mozart paid attention to this! And even more extremely Chopin) in reply to the orchestra’s binary proposals. Rana handled the delicate slow Largo with assured finesse and brought everyone upright in their seats. The concluding Presto supplies an improvisational air, as the orchestra buckles down to compete with the keyboard. Here amid unusual pauses in rhythm piano and orchestra were in sync. The excitement in the audience was such that Rana was obliged to take three bows. For encore she performed the gigue from Bach’s Partita in E minor, exquisitely delivering its light, jocular humor, which must have influenced Mozart greatly.
After this thrilling performance, the question was: could the Orchestra compete with Rana’s performance? Happily, the answer was affirmative. Bernard Labadie (sans baton, a French invention), sculpted with outstretched energetic hands as he conducted Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 56, called “Scottish” due to its use of lively Scot’s folk-dance tunes. The result was indeed thrilling. This 1842 work, Mendelssohn’s last chronological symphony, has no pause in its four movement forty-minute run. This Romantic landscape painting conjures howling winds and splashing waves, the rising of mountains and chromatic scales that fall to valleys, the running of rills and sweep of clouds, which offer a tempest in the second movement. Here the horns of Joseph Anderer, Eric Reed, R.J. Kelley, and Alexandra Cook were superb and so was Kevin Cobb on trumpet! Daniel Haskins on timpani delivered the thrill without bombast. And strings played with fierce unity, especially in the climatic fourth movement which was well worth the ever-exciting crescendo and climax!
The Orchestra of St. Luke’s has a reputation for predominately Baroque music. Here Labadie pushed a program beyond their conventional repertoire with great success. Also, the showcasing of a rising young star in Rana Beatrice was a most welcome element of vital programming. Labadie has poured new wine in old casks, and we hope he will continue to do so in the future.