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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Concert Review--Haydn, Mozart and Schubert at the Philharmonic

If piano concertos, as a genre, were invented as a means to express dissent and argument between a soloist and accompanying orchestra, those of Mozart are among the most congenial. The F Major concerto (premiered in 1784 in honor of the Frankfurt coronation of Emperor Leopold II with Mozart himself at the piano) combines lyricism and athletic keyboard ability. Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic proved that in their familiar roles of conductor and pianist, Sir Colin Davis and Mitsuko Uchida have both to spare.

In the opening movement, the veteran conductor built Mozart's six-theme architecture, setting the stage for the entry of the piano part. Then, Uchida lifted her hands, settled them just at the keyboard and poured forth torrents of notes with seemingly no effort. She produced a quicksilver stream of sound, her fingers flying up and down the keyboard. The adagio movement was woven from the same silver cloth, the minimal accompaniment complementing the flow of sound from the piano. The final movement was far more athletic, but no less thrilling to the ear.

The concert opened with one of the better-known Haydn symphonies: La Reine (named after Marie Antoinette, who particularly liked it) belongs to the set of "Paris" symphonies (Nos. 82-87). This symphony (No. 85) finds Haydn absorbing French influences, incorporating themes and musical devices designed to appear specifically to French musical tastes. The second movement of this symphony includes a charming theme-and-variations on a folk-song called "La gentile et jeune Lisette". Employing a minimal force, Sir Colin conducted a robust performance of this elegant little symphony, a refreshing change from the massive works that are staples of this orchestra's repertory.

The finale was Schubert's Fourth Symphony, returning to the Philharmonic repertory for the first time since 1996. Despite its nickname (given by the composer), this "Tragic" Symphony has far less pathos than one might expect. It does have Schubert's unerring sense of melody, building off the symphonic ideas put forth by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The slow movement featured a lyrical oboe solo from principal Liang Wang. The scherzo with its dotted rhythms and off-the-beat introduction held no terrors for the veterans of the Philharmonic. The final rondo featured a conflict between a bouncing little theme and a sighing figure in the strings--no doubt the tragic inspiration coming out in this otherwise sunny work.

Above: Sir Colin Davis makes the conductor's sign for "touchdown."

Photo © UMG/Decca/Philips
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.