A substantial crowd was on hand to witness the local orchestral debuts of two extraordinary young artists at the Charleston Symphony’s Masterworks concert last Saturday. Maestro David Stahl led his wonderful musicians in a delightful and satisfying all-Mozart program that featured several of the Austrian master’s best-known works.
The Maestro and his minions got things started with the overture to the composer’s final opera, The Magic Flute; a work that — despite its often frivolous characters and many comic moments — is loaded with Masonic philosophy and symbolism. The three solemn opening chords presage the opera’s darker themes, but the music soon takes a lighter, more spirited turn before proceeding — amid several major-minor key shifts — to its glorious close. Stahl and company offered a glittering performance, while executing the music’s many mood-swings perfectly.
The vocal treats that followed were from the same opera: the two spectacular and beastly difficult arias from the “Queen of the Night,” the work’s primary villain. Mozart delighted in writing near-impossible material for the finest sopranos of his day, and he outdid himself in this formidable pair. Vocal honors fell this night to Amy Lynn Call, a fabulous young American dramatic coloratura soprano who is just emerging from her student years — but already has an impressive record of appearances in Austria and Germany. One of her mainstays there is just this role: one that — at any given point in time — perhaps ten sopranos worldwide are capable of performing to major-metro standards (the late Beverly Sills got her start with it).
Based on Call’s performances here, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her join this elite class of singers — and soon. Singing with confident poise, she electrified her audience with her lovely tone, tremendous range and stupendous vocal agility. Her highest notes were perfectly controlled, bouncing acrobatically around the vocal stratosphere with dead-on pitch and articulation in passages where many sopranos can only screech. I wonder if I’ve ever heard better performances of these numbers anywhere — even at a couple of the world’s best opera houses. She certainly earned her raucous standing O.
Then came a second cause for thunderstruck wonder: an appearance by 15-year-old local pianist Micah McLaurin, who is rapidly establishing himself as our most brilliant hometown prodigy. The most remarkable aspect of his playing is his uncanny interpretive maturity and deep emotionality. A student of the College of Charleston’s piano master Enrique Graf, Micah already has an impressive record of awards and competition wins — and he showed us why here.
His scheduled work was the glowing slow (Adagio) movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which he delivered with delicate grace and deep expression — beautifully supported by Stahl and company. But still, this incredibly lovely music hardly showed us everything Micah is capable of. So, not far into the audience’s noisy standing ovation, he offered an encore (which I later learned was planned in advance): piano master Franz Liszt’s ravishing keyboard transcription of Richard Wager’s Liebestod (Love-Death), from his operatic masterpiece Tristan und Isolde. This is some of the most passionate music ever written, and Micah brought it to gut-wrenching life: with ravishing tone, perfect linear control and devastating sentiment. Many of us heard our first true prodigy here.
After intermission, the orchestra returned to deliver Mozart’s ingenious Symphony No. 40 in G minor — one of his two magnificent final works in the genre. Stahl led a chiseled and lively account, bringing out all of the work’s subtleties as well as its sense of nervous tension and dramatic glory. Mozart achieved some of his finest orchestral counterpoint in this one, and our players saw to it that we didn’t miss a note of it.
This wonderful evening of musical riches proved yet again that — even in a financially distressed season — this orchestra doesn’t need more than their core numbers — or flashy, big-name soloists — to deliver world-class performances of the greatest classics to appreciative audiences.