Thursday, August 08, 2013

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Jeremie Rhorer, conductor; Paul Lewis, piano. August 7, 2013.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra Right (Seat X2, $46.50).

Pre-concert Recital
Pieces de clavecin, from the Septieme order (1716-17) by Couperin (1668-1733).
Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 5, No. 6 (1746) by Geminiani (1687-1762).
Four Nations Ensemble: Loretta O’Sullivan, cello; Scott Pauley, lute; Andrew Appel, harpsichord.

Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (1786) by Mozart.
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C manor, K. 503 (1786) by Mozart.
Symphony No. 1 in C manor (1799-1800) by Beethoven.

Since today is a weekday, we decided to drive in.  Traffic was quite good and we got to Lincoln Center at about 5:45 pm.  After we got our tickets, we had a light dinner at China Fun and made it to the 7 pm pre-concert recital in good time.

I am even less a student of period instruments, and only find myself enjoying occasionally such a concert.  Today’s concert wasn’t one of those, although I didn’t mind sitting through the two rather short pieces (at 14 and 8 minutes respectively.)

As a side remark (first brought up by Anne), while I am not a fan of renaissance art in general, I do find some of the paintings and sculptures from that period quite interesting (I just visited Florence, after all,) and I do look at the work before then more as a means to get educated rather than as material that would “lift my soul.”  Interestingly, as far as music is concerned, the demarcation seems to be around Bach’s time, which is a few centuries later.  Not sure much can be gleamed from this, but interesting nonetheless.

For completeness, I excerpt some of the information from David Wright’s writeup below.  The two works were considered daring and bold for their time.  An “order” for Francois Couperin, a master composer for the harpsichord, roughly means a “suite.”  Today’s performance consists of five selections from the eight:La Menetou; Les petits ages(litte ages): La muse naissante (birth of the muse), L’enfantine (little child), L’adolescente (adolescent), and Les delices (delights).  It is believed that La Menetou may refer to some in Couperin’s circle, evidently a person of complex and crafty intellect.

Francesco Geminiani was an admired violinist also considered a great composer by some.  The Cello sonata is performed by three instruments.  The lute is an interesting looking instrument with a very long neck.  I had trouble telling the difference between how a lute and a harpsichord sounds.  In the short eight minutes the composer manages to squeeze in three movements: Adagio, Allegro assai, and Allegro.

Now onto the main program.  First the summary: this was a much more enjoyable performance than the one we went to last Friday.  And in the spirit of simple enjoyment of a summer evening, I should stop here ...

It helps that the program consists of three well-known pieces, and the annotator even encourages the audience to tap along (good thing no one did, as far as I could tell.)  The orchestra and the soloist all seemed to play with more spirit than they did last Friday.  The piccolo player was playing the flute today and didn’t seem to have trouble staying awake.

The strings did have some trouble with some of the faster runs (such as the one in the overture) and sounded a bit chaotic, but in general provided the light and crisp touch called for in Mozart’s music.  For the symphony things generally ran well, I do wish the trumpets could sound a bit louder, though.

The pianist put in an engaging performance.  However, sometimes I wonder whether he was playing Mozart.  There was too much pedaling and he was more liberal than usual with varying the tempo.

The applause from the audience was quite enthusiastic.  I wonder if it is more a result of their appreciation of the interpretation, or just a show of how much they enjoyed hearing some of their favorite music being played.  In either or both cases, it is all good.  If one was listening for the former, then one would find Wright's detailed writeup analyzing the compositions very useful; otherwise his summary remarks would suffice.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Andrew Manze, conductor; Emanuel Ax, piano. August 2, 2013.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat Y104, $54).

Pre-concert Recital: Sonata No. 2 in A manor, Op. 2, No. 2 (1794-95).
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major (1795).
Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”) (1808).

I was a little surprised to get an e-mail from Atrium Discount Tickets that half-price tickets were available for this program.  One would think with Emanuel Ax the concerts will be sold out.  Since we didn’t want to spend the entire day in the city, we decided to try our luck by taking the 4:30 pm train into town (summer Friday traffic is usually bad), which got us to Lincoln Center about 5:45 pm.  Tickets were available for the $100 and $85 seats, and we decided to splurge on the more expensive ones.  We had enough time to eat something simple at Empire Szechuan, and still made it to attend the 7 pm pre-concert.

The attendance for the pre-concert is quite good.  The sonata is early Beethoven, and is quite Mozartian in its simplicity.  The contrasts characteristic of Beethoven’s later works are not there.  As I said on prior occasions, I have a hard time distinguishing between a good and a great Mozart performance, and – to the extent this work sounds like Mozart – that applies here also.  However, I was not prepared for how disjoint the piece sounded.  And I never thought I would say I wish he used a bit more pedaling.  Nonetheless the piece was nice to listen to.  The sonata has four movements: Allegro vivace, Largo appassionato; Scherzo: Allegretto; Rondo: Grazioso.

The attendance for the “regular” concert was very good.  There were a few empty seats in our row – probably the last $100 seat row – but the rows before us were quite well occupied.  So were the first and second tiers; the third tier was closed off, though.

One would never guess the concerto and the sonata were written at about the same time.  Compared to the sonata, the concerto requires a lot more virtuosity from the pianist.  There is much discussion in the Program Notes about the concerto labeled as “second” was actually the first written, but Beethoven wanted his first published work to be more substantial.  The three movements are Allegro con brio, Adagio and Rondo: Molto allegro.  Anne and I are both certain that we have heard this many times, but we also seem to be familiar with the third movement only.

While as an “even numbered” symphony, the sixth would be considered one of Beethoven’s mild compositions.  The symphony is unusual in that it has five movements, and Beethoven’s markings also constitute a program: (1) Allegro ma non troppo: Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arriving in the country; (2) Andante molto mosso: Scene by the brook; (3) Allegro: Merry gathering of peasants –; (4) Allegro: Tempest, storm –; and (5) Allegretto: Shepherds’ hymn – Happy and thankful feelings after the storm.  Given the number of references to storm and tempest, some degree of contrast is to be expected.  And indeed there are.  Here I wished there was a bit more to the dynamics.  Several themes are repeated quite often, and can sound that way if not played well.  And it sounded repetitive.  For the storm the piccolo is used, so the player has to sit through the 40+ minute composition to put in a few loud tweets.  The poor lady seemed to have a difficult time staying awake.  The first flute had quite a workout, in contrast, and the flutist did well.

I did not expect a lot from the performance, viewing it as a good way to while away a summer evening.  In that regard I didn’t sit through the concert with too critical an ear.  I guess I could have written a simple review like “A light program providing good entertainment for a summer evening.”  Which is true.