Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Jonathan Nott, conductor; Juho Pohjonen, piano. August 16, 2011.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra Left (Seat S106, $50).

Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920, rev. 1947) by Stravinsky (1882-1971).
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K.488 (1786) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60 (1806) by Beethoven (1770-1827).

Because of our travels, we would only be home during the second half of the festival, which mostly takes place in August. So far I have bought tickets to three of the remaining four concerts, all at 50% off (plus service fee) from Goldstar. Atrium Discounts now offers them at 50% off also, but too late, unless it works out for the festival finale at the end of next week. In any case, the concert hall was reasonably full (third tier was roped off), I assume most people didn’t pay full price.

The wise people of the M|M committee thought it would make sense to explore the connection between Stravinsky and Mozart, and all three of the concerts indeed have pieces by Stravinsky in it. There are a couple of interesting tidbits of information. Evidently Stravinsky had made a rather caustic statement about Mozart’s symphonies, saying they would be fine if the development sections are cut out. Harlow Robinson (whose article Mozart/Stravinsky: 1791/1971 appears in the Playbill) says the two composers mirror each other. Turns out on our way back home we were listening to this treatise analyzing Ives’ music, and the analysis there was more the imagination of the writer rather than what Ives’ sought to do. Similar sentiments from me in the Mozart/Stravinsky case.

The first piece was performed by 21 woodwind and brass players, plus the conductor. The construction of the piece was simple as the intent was to highlight how different groups of voices (thus the title) would sound. Also, Stravinsky wrote this as a tribute to Debussy who died a couple of years earlier. I find the construction of the music relatively simple, the dynamic range rather limited, and the melodies – while tonal – rather pedestrian (nothing like say The Rite of Spring). At the end (maybe 30 seconds) I did hear some emotion come through, but it was too little, too late. This somehow reminds me of Dumbarton Oaks, another work by Stravinsky that I don’t find particular appealing. Supposedly Balanchine choreographed this into a ballet, and the music will evoke definite images for those who have seen the ballet.

I didn’t know Mozart reserved some piano concertos for his own exclusive use. The one we heard today was one of them. The Program Notes calls it a “middle child” (of K.482, 488, and 491) and points out there are no trumpets or timpani, and uses clarinets instead of oboes. All well and good.

The pianist is described as “one of the brightest young instrumental talents to emerge from Finland” in the Program Notes. From where we sat he looked like a teenager at first glance, but a bit older on closer examination. Since he started “junior academy” in 1989, I guess he would have to be in his 30s. His playing is best described as “all right hand” (perhaps a fairer description is “mostly right hand”). The melody is well articulated, but the rest of the score seems to play only a supporting role. I usually say I like Mozart “crispy” (which he achieved) but I realize I took “balanced” for granted. He also had some problems with several runs. On the other hand, Mozart is always enjoyable (even though I sometimes fall asleep during the slow movements) and this was no exception.

The movements of the concerto are Allegro, Adagio and Allegro assai. Mozart’s cadenza was performed.

Beethoven started his fourth symphony around 1803, but the work kept getting interrupted and eventually displaced by another symphony, which also became the actual fourth. The original one ended up being his famous fifth. Thus this symphony is also in some way a middle child, nestled between two well-known works. I don’t have it in my CD collection, and wasn’t familiar it.

The Program Notes contains a good description of the construction of the movements, which I find very useful. I do have a little problem with the last sentence “The music takes on a perpetual-motion momentum, which is what makes the hesitant, teasing coda so agonizingly effective.” Turns out the coda was very short – certainly shorter than the time it takes to read the sentence; case of a writer not wanting a good line to go to waste. The four movements are (i) Adagio – Allegro vivace; (ii) Adagio; (iii) Allegro molto e vivace – Un poco meno allegro; and (iv) Allegro ma non troppo.

One feels this level of playing is about at the limit of the orchestra’s capability. There was a line which calls for a seamless interleaving of wind and string instruments which was botched quite badly. The 16th note runs, especially in the last movement, could properly be called atrocious. And the timpani, it was out of tune lots of times. I don’t know if it was the tuning, or how it was hit, but the effect was the equivalent of scratching a chalkboard with one’s fingernail.

A short note on the conductor, whom we saw a couple of times before (quite a few years back though.) I thought he elicited a good performance from the orchestra, especially the Mozart piano concerto where the dynamics was superb.

One goes to a M|M concert to enjoy an evening, not to engage in an intellectual critique of the program or the performance (even though that can’t be helped); a little summer music, if I might paraphrase. In that the Festival succeeds quite well. I think I will enjoy the upcoming concerts also. Here is the New York Times Review.

1 comment:

Majid Ali said...

Please for Christ sake help this poor boy from Haiti.