RUTLAND — Sublime is an overused word, even by this reviewer, but it best describes Anthony McGill’s performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday. And the audience — truly impressive in size for a classical music performance in Rutland — got it.
Unusually, this is a review of two performances. The same program was performed Saturday at Burlington’s Flynn Center and this reviewer attended both, but due to a family obligation skipped the second half in Rutland. Still, due to the superior acoustics of the Paramount, the first half — including the Mozart — can be discussed in more depth from that performance.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, is a masterpiece among masterpieces, full of the composer’s trademark beautiful lyricism and profound emotional depth. McGill, 39, a principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, played with an unusual elegance and refinement. Much like a great singer, he employed his soft buttery sound expressively with elegant diminuendos at the end of phrases, yet never diminished its emotional quality.
McGill achieved the vulnerability of the slow movement, Andante, by taking the risk of becoming very soft, yet never losing the expressive line. It went straight to the heart. He also moved seamlessly into the virtuosic sections, which were delivered with seeming ease, warmth and elegance — so necessary to a great Mozart performance, which this was.
It couldn’t have been a sublime performance without the excellent collaboration of music director Jaime Laredo and the VSO. They and McGill achieved a precise, beautiful sound and an intimacy that made the work seamless and whole. It was special.
Bizet’s Symphony in C, which closed the program, is one of music’s most familiar works, though it was written by the composer at 17 as an exercise at the Paris Conservatory. Save for some string intonation slips in the opening movement, Saturday’s performance by Laredo and the VSO at the Flynn delivered the work’s joyful lyricism and its final excitement with a seamless warm sound. Associate principal Mary Watt virtually sang the long oboe solos in the slow movement, Adagio. It was charismatic.
Back to Rutland, the program opened with Richard Strauss’ 1947 Duet-Concertino, a “storytelling” work that enjoys the composer’s rich harmonic language. The two characters, McGill’s clarinet and bassoonist Janet Polk, interacted lyrically and clashed, occasionally joined by principal strings. It’s unusual to hear the bassoon up front, and Polk, longtime VSO principal, proved warm and expressive, and McGill matched her all the way. Still, it’s an odd piece.
The VSO is a fine professional regional orchestra and it’s playing better than ever, so it was good to see that both Rutland and Burlington audiences increased in size noticeably. Music lovers who weren’t there really missed something special.