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Allegro Treats Met Audience To Evening Of Sweet Love Songs

Allegro’s “Roses and Lace” Wednesday, Feb. 14, The Met

Allegro’s Valentine’s Day concert, “Roses and Lace,” provided the musical equivalent of flowers and chocolate for a Met full of lovers.

Music mostly from the 19th century, and centered on song, was the mainstay of Wednesday’s performance. Love songs and melodramatic moments pilfered from opera kept the sweetness and light levels appropriately high.

Classic love songs without Schubert? Not possible. Soprano Ann Fennessy nailed down five of these with able expression and sensitivity. Her “road map to German songs” introductions served as a humorous Michelin Guide to persons both familiar and unfamiliar with the territory.

Fennessy shifted to Schubert’s various moods with aplomb. “Heidenroslein” was properly folksy, Goethe’s text to the more epic “Ganymed” was rendered clearly, and the lustiness of a drinking song was given to “Der Musensohn” (the “I Write the Songs” of the last century).

As is often the case, Allegro’s Beverly Biggs did not perform any solo numbers but provided artful accompaniment to Fennessy’s voice and David Dutton’s oboe. Biggs played her wood-framed pianoforte, ancestor of the contemporary piano, on which most of this music was originally played and heard.

Biggs’ control over all of the instrument’s idiosyncracies was wonderful. The pianoforte hints at the power of the modern beast when the envelope is pushed but for the most part remains an intimate parlor instrument. It can ring like a hammer dulcimer or be made to sound like a guitar strumming, as it did for the gentle barcarole feel in Gounod’s “Serenade.”

The oboe, too, had its shining moments. Dutton’s flashiest number of the evening was Ponchielli’s Capriccio, which seemed to be a self-contained mini-melodramatic opera. A technical bandstand tour de force, this work calls for everything the player can give, and more. Dutton had it all on Wednesday.

His strong suit is expression, however. His intuitive knack for turning phrases and giving each line interest and individuality made the slow pieces more impressive than the quick.

Kreisler’s “Liebesleid,” the familiar waltz, was very laid back, with plenty of thoughtful hesitation, elevating it far above the trite. If possible, Godard’s “Berceuse,” a lullaby from his opera “Jocelyn,” was even more tear-jerkingly beautiful. Dutton made the sad, slow song tender and gripping.

When all the emotion had been wrung from the oboe, Fennessy joined in to make it a threesome. The pianoforte, oboe and voice blended well on Stephen Foster’s arrangement of Schubert’s mellow “Serenade,” which offered an introspective and subdued ending to the first half.

The trio finished the concert on a different note, with Fennessy portraying a warbling shepherdess celebrating the mountains with trills and arpeggios. Dutton accompanied with “shepherd’s pipes” as Fennessy lilted and fluttered through Adam’s “La Retour a la Montagne.”

Allegro’s play on love was a sweet success. For those valentines inclined toward pink roses, romantic poetry, and letting their hearts melt to timeless love songs, this was the place to be.

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