Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Jeffrey Kahane, conductor and piano. August 12, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra Center (Seat S103, $50.)

Program – All-Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 (1785).
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 (1786).
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K. 482 (1785).

Despite the 1785 and 1786 dates, these piano concertos were written within a year: spring 1785 to spring 1786.  The Snapshot section in the Playbill describes them as “widely varied in their overall character, from the cheerful, bustling C major, K. 467, to the searching, even desolate C minor, K. 491, to the majestic E-flat major, K. 482.”

As I resume writing this entry on August 17, my original assessment that this didn’t leave a lasting impression is confirmed.  I recall No. 21 as being quite familiar (how can it not be, with the well-known slow movement), and being quite surprised how unfamiliar I was with 24 and 22.  To use my old cliché about my not being able to tell a good from a great Mozart performance, I must say this definitely wasn’t in the “great” category.  What I heard from Richard Goode at the last concert was definitely much better in comparison.

Kahane’s lines were simply unsatisfactory to my ears.  The phrasing wasn’t smooth, and he used too much pedal – Anne called it fuzzy playing (she used a Chinese colloquial term which means “unclear.”)  Perhaps he should concentrate on the piano instead of also trying to lead the orchestra?  The cadenzas were his own compositions.

At conclusion of tonight's concert.

The movements of No. 21 are Allegro maestoso, Andante, and Allegro vivace assai; for No. 24, Allegro, Larghetto, and Allegretto; for No. 22, Allegro, Andante, and Allegro.

I have a playlist of Mozart's works that I listen to on these long flights I take, with the hope that the soothing music will help me get some sleep.  That sometimes works.  Tonight reminded me of such a playlist, although I must say I stayed awake the whole time.  But there were times I was asking myself where things were.

Our son and family were visiting, so we took a late afternoon train to get to Lincoln Center.  My using an old train schedule, and that Penn Station was congested meant we had to buy a couple of sandwiches and eat on the subway.  CS was there with a couple of his friends, and he gave us a ride back to NJ.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor; Richard Goode, piano. August 9, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Linoln Center.  Orchestra Left (Seat Z13, $39.50).

Program: All-Mozart
Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, K. 16 (1764-65).
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414 (1782).
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”) (1788).

This is an unusual program in at least a couple of ways.  First, it’s all-Mozart, which is relatively rare even in a festival headlined as “Mostly Mozart.”  The other is both the first and the last symphonies Mozart wrote would be performed.

There is little doubt that 41 is the last symphony Mozart wrote, even though there is still considerable speculation on why he wrote it, and if any of the group of three he wrote during the summer of 1788 was ever performed during his lifetime.  K. 16 was written when he was eight, on tour in London; the Program Notes paints this beautiful picture of how Mozart’s sister Nannerl helped copy down the music as Mozart was composing it.

The other interesting thing is how Mozart reused one of the motifs in K. 16 (do-re-fa-me) in many of his subsequent works.  One could wax nostalgic how a theme in his first symphony got such a prominent role in his last (of course Mozart didn’t know No. 41 would be his last.)

I read up on the Playbill before the concert, so I was all eager to get the main and subtle points in the Program Notes.  Of course Mozart became a very different composer over the 20-some years between the symphonies.  Indeed No. 1 could be mistaken for a simple Haydn, and No. 41 for Beethoven.  And indeed the do-re-fa-me theme got reused multiple times in the last movement of the Jupiter Symphony.  The short (13 minutes) K. 16 has three movements: Molto allegro, Andante, and Presto; while the 31-minute K. 551 has four: Allegro vivace, Andante cantabile, Menuetto: Allegretto, and Molto allegro.

What I found more interesting was how in Jupiter Mozart built up the contrapuntal complexity by introducing additional themes (four altogether?) into the music one at a time.  Even though I couldn’t follow the exact notes of the different melodies, it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.  It would have been a more fruitful exercise if the annotator wrote down the four lines for us (Paul Schiavo calls them principal melody, counter-theme, and two counter-subjects.)  Indeed the Wikipedia entry on this symphony has markings of the themes which helped me greatly in understanding this.  And it has five of them.

The two symphonies were both delightfully performed.  Perhaps my attempt at analysis helped me overlook some of the sloppiness in the execution.  With the many quick passages (a lot of 8th notes in 2/2 time, 16th notes in some places) it may be too much to ask the strings to play as one voice, nonetheless I can imagine a more precise performance.

Sandwiched between the symphonies was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, performed by Richard Goode.  The last (and only) time I saw him perform was about three years ago, with the New York Philharmonic.  He looked quite a bit older than he did then, if memory serves.  Again he needed the music, although there was no page turner this time, and he did refer to the score very often.  That didn’t detract him from putting in a nice rendition of the piece, with some beautifully executed light-touch passages.  I need to slip back to my “can’t tell great from good” mode, though.  The concerto’s three movements are Allegro, Andante, and Rondeau – Allegretto (oh, the simple markings Mozart used.)  The cadenza was by Mozart.

Richard Goode at conclusion of performance.

The performance was broadcast live on WQXR, and videotaped for a later TV showing.  I wonder if they will edit out Langree’s heavy breathing before a dramatic phrase – I could hear it sitting in row Z!

Overall, the program was captivating enough that I found myself listening intently throughout the evening, which for me is a challenge when it comes to an all-Mozart concert.  Later this week we will hear in one concert three Mozart piano concertos, I wonder how well I will do then.

I have always wondered about the New York audience’s level of sophistication.  There were a few vignettes that were interesting.  Someone was trying to impress his date by explaining K (as in K. 16) stands for catalog, and that the harpsichord was a spinet piano.  Naturally this knowledgeable gentleman gave a standing ovation at the conclusion of the concerto.  Also, after the orchestra was seated for the piano concerto, many applauded as three people came on stage.  Turns out they were the (highly-paid) stage hands who had to move things around a bit to create enough room for the pianist.  Interestingly enough, few applauded after the conclusion of particular movements.

We had two tickets (from Goldstar), Anne had a dinner commitment and thus couldn’t go.  I took the train up and walked to Lincoln Center from Penn Station, grabbing some pizza along the way.  The concert ended early enough that I made the 9:38 pm train by a couple of minutes by taking the subway.  However, the train was held up for 20 minutes as only one tunnel was in use, and it had to wait for the eastbound trains to come through first.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Paavo Jarvi, conductor; Martin Frost, Clarinet. August 5, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra Center (Seat Q103, $50).

Pre-concert Recital by Andrew Tyson, piano.
Ballade in A-flat major (1841) by Chopin.
Sonata No. 28 in E-flat major (“Les Adieux”) (1809-10) by Beethoven.

La Sindone (2005/rev. 2015) by Part (b.1935).
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622 (1791) by Mozart.
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major (1806) by Beethoven.

The first piece probably found its way onto the program because Arvo Part is from Estonia, as is Jarvi.  The word Sindone (no idea what language it is, probably French) means shroud, and specifically refers to the Shroud of Turin.  Part was commissioned to compose a piece for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and wrote this as “a dark meditation on Christ’s death and burial.”  While I skimmed over the Program Notes before the concert, I forgot about this, and instead tried to listen to a description of the Shroud, including the burned corners.  Of course I didn’t get what I was expecting, and even now (a few hours after the concert) cannot make the connection between what I remember to what Part was trying to convey.  The piece was foreboding enough, and reflected in many instances the minimalist style of Part.  (Of course by the 2000s Part was more into music of a spiritual character.)  The piece called for several percussion instruments (triangle, church bell, bass drum, and others).  Anne’s remark was “not even close to being Mozart.”

Whatever one’s misgivings might be for the first piece, they were all dispersed with a simply delightful rendition of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.  A piece that is easy to like, it was captivating with Martin Frost performing it.  He seemed to enjoy playing it immensely, even though I am sure he has done it countless number of times.  Not a student of the clarinet, I don’t know how difficult this piece is technically, but certainly there were passages that called for adept fingering, long breaths, and large changes in pitches.  Mozart after all wrote it with the virtuoso Anton Stadler in mind.  It is so impressive that I have to withdraw my usual "I-can’t-tell-good-from-great-Mozart-performance" remark to: I can’t imagine seeing another performance of this composition that I would enjoy more.

Frost is Swedish, and his career seems to go beyond being a clarinetist to a conductor and a musicologist.  For encore he played a piece – with orchestra accompaniment - written by his brother Johann called “Don’t Worry” which contains bits of the popular birthday song, in commemoration of this being the 50th anniversary of the Mostly Mozart Festival.  Evidently he had played something called “Be Happy” on some other occasion.

Curtain call after the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

In looking for a review of this concert (didn't find any), I came across an article on Frost and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.  One interesting fact is Frost plays this concerto on "a modern replica of a basset clarinet, a longer version that has an expanded bass register."

Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony is the little brother (or sister) sandwiched between the Eroica and the Fifth, and is not nearly as popular as those two.  This symphony would dispel the notion that Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies are much calmer than the odd-numbered ones (musicologists used more sophisticated terms.)  There was a lot of contrast in rhythm, urgency, loudness, and other aspects.  Perhaps not as much as the odd group, but enough to make the piece distinctly Beethoven.

The flute got a lot of workout, especially in the first movement, and it came across dependably all the time, beautifully most of the time.  The concertmaster still dominated.  And there was some loss of control during the fast runs.  I do wonder how this would compare with an Orpheus performance.  Overall it was an enjoyable rendition of the symphony.

Paavo Jarvi is the son of Neeme Jarvi.  He leads the NHK Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles.  His motions were a lot more exaggerated than his father’s (I read up on my writeup on Neeme), and they elicited good responses from the orchestra.

Today we left our house at 4:30 pm and got to the Lincoln Center area at around 6 pm, giving us enough time to eat something simple at Europan before attending the pre-concert recital.

Tyson is a young pianist with quite a list of “wins” to his name, including the Avery Fisher Grant in 2013.  The Chopin ballade was light and cheerful (and difficult.)  I had not heard of Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” sonata before.  There is somewhat of a story behind this.  The first movement (Das Lebewohl, which translates into the French title, Adagio-Allegro) was written to memorialize the departure of Beethoven’s patron Archduke Rudolph from Vienna as Napoleon was about to lay siege to the city.  The second movement Abwesenheit (absence, Andante espressivo) is an expression of grief and loss.  But Das Wiedersehen (seeing someone again, Vivacissimamente) was composed after Rudolph returned to Vienna in 1810 and reflected Beethoven’s happiness.  All that in 17 minutes.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Thierry Fischer, conductor; Martin Helmchen, piano. August 2, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra Right (Seat O13, $39.50).

Symphony No. 59 in A major (“Fire”) (c. 1768) by Haydn.
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503 (1786) by Mozart.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (1788) by Mozart.

Andres Orozco-Estrada, whom we saw a few years ago in Vienna and currently with the Houston Symphony, was originally on the program. He had a back program, and Fischer, of Utah Symphony stood in for him.

My first thoughts were that we have not had a truly “mostly Mozart” program for a while (the “Illuminated Heart” being an unusual exception,) so was rather looking forward to an evening I could simply sit back and enjoy.

To that end the program succeeded greatly.  The two Mozart pieces were reasonably familiar, and the Haydn one easy enough to grasp.

Per the program annotator, many believe that the Fire Symphony was also used for the play “The Conflagration” staged at Eszterhaza in 1774.  The annotator then proceeds to describe each of the movements in some detail: (1) Presto: flamboyant, octave-leaps, bursts, contrasts, furious; (2) Andante o piu tosto Allegretto: ambivalent, unexpected turns, fortissimo horn call; (3) Menuetto: bare texture, major-minor ambiguity, dance with gracefully taper phrases; and (4) Allegro assai: first and last words by wind instruments, military, fiery, blazing scales.  The performance was all that, as long as one remembers we are talking Haydn (and not Beethoven).  I was wondering how all this could be fitted into the 17 minutes stated in the program.  They didn’t, it took a couple of minutes longer.

Both Anne and I noticed the annoying aspect of a few of the string players dominating the rest of the section.  Today it was the concertmaster (called “First Violin Principal” in the program.)  There were times it sounded as if he was the only one playing and the others were simply going through the motion.  Probably because we were sensitized to that, the problem persisted throughout the evening.  I do have to give the orchestra some credit for sounding quite precise.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 was completed the day before it was scheduled.  My usual remark about Mozart is I can’t tell a good performance from a great one.  Today’s performance probably also falls into that range.  However, I do have gripes at various times that the lines sounded disjoint (which I don’t ever recall saying), or too much pedaling was used.  At about 30 minutes, it was on the long side for Mozart.  The three movements are Allegro maestoso, Andante, and Allegretto.  The cadenza was by Martin Hecker.  The last movement was in rondo form, if not in name.

This is the first time we saw Helmchen, who looked quite young from where we sat.  Despite my misgivings, it was an enjoyable performance.

The program concluded with Mozart’s 40th Symphony, one of the three Mozart composed in the span of six weeks during the summer of 1788.  The 35-minute work consists of Molto allegro, Andante, Menuetto: Allegretto, and Allegro assai.  It was one of only two minor symphonies Mozart wrote, it might be considered bleak by musicologists, but I suspected it sounded to most listeners as being sunny, as it did me.

Fischer didn’t have a railing behind the platform, and he didn’t need it as his feet was firmly planted on the ground.  However, his upper body motion could be quite exaggerated at times.  I don’t know how long ago he was called to do the conducting, but the orchestra responded to him well.

Thierry Fischer.

This New York Times article contains a one-paragraph review of the concert.  Both Fischer (“stylish”) and Helmchen (“refined”) got good grades.

We left home at around 5 pm today, traffic was bad, and it was around 7 pm that I parked the car and got to Lincoln Center.  The way back was quite straightforward, and we managed to swing by Newark to pick up CS, returning from a San Francisco trip.