Renée Fleming and the SA Symphony

By David Hendricks, San Antonio Express-News

When recreating history, no one is more resplendent than soprano Renée Fleming.

The San Antonio Symphony on Saturday (Sept. 20) launched its 75th season, its first in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, by repeating one its landmark achievements, the U.S. premiere in November 1950 of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs.

Famed Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad performed three of the songs at the Municipal Auditorium that year, skipping the first song, “Frühling,” its high notes out of her range. Symphony founder Max Reiter conducted, three weeks before his death.

Fleming sang all four Strauss masterpieces in a special gala concert, filling the H-E-B Performance Hall with the sense of ripeness, acceptance and poetic beauty of life’s end.

Her pure vocal beauty, radiant stage presence and graceful gestures combined to deliver a performance of the Strauss songs no one attending the near-sellout audience of about 1,700 is likely to forget. Fleming made the progression of the song’s themes of spring, summer’s end, falling asleep and sunset an ardent, soaring and transcendent experience.

Lighter fare followed the Strauss songs, Joseph Canteloube’s lush, “Malurous qu’o uno fenno” and “Baïléro,” plus Léo Delibes’s flirty “Les Filles de Cadix.”

The symphony, under Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing, filled out the program with vivid performances of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier Suite and Maurice Ravel’s sizzling Rapsodie espagnole.

The concert’s emphasis on Strauss was a prelude to the symphony’s Strauss Festival that begins in early 2015.

Fleming and Lang-Lessing extended their collaboration with this concert. After Fleming’s concert with the San Antonio Symphony in March 2012, Lang-Lessing conducted much of her subsequent orchestral tour. Fleming’s latest CD, released earlier this year, “Guilty Pleasures,” includes two songs from Saturday’s concert,. the Delibes and Canteloube’s “Malurous,” with Lang-Lessing conducting London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

Encores drew Saturday’s concert to an uplifting and celebratory conclusion. Fleming sang George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess,” followed by Frederick Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady,” The last encore, Leonard Bernstein’s “Take Care of this House” from “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” refers to the White House, but for this concert Fleming applied the title to the new Tobin Center.