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Monday, August 13, 2012

Concert Review: Funeral for a Friend

Lutoslawski, Bartók and um...Mozart at Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pensive Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Photo © 2012 Paul Mitchell for the BBC Proms.
On Friday night, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra played one of its more interesting programs of the 2012 schedule, placing Mozart's Symphony No. 39 in conjunction with two closely related 20th century works, the Musique funèbre by Witold Lutoslawski and the Third Piano Concerto by Béla Bartók.

These two modern works are connected by death. Bartók wrote the Third at the very end of his life, as a birthday present for his wife. He did not live to orchestrate the last 17 bars. Lutoslawski's four-movement work for divided string orchestra is a musical gravestone for the Hungarian composer, a moving portrayal etched in broad ink-strokes.

The Musique funèbre is a good example of what can be done using serial technique. The compostion is built from tone-rows, unconventional arrangements of notes that bear no relationship to the standard ascents and descents of the scale. Mr, Langrée unlocked the potent ideas in each of these small movements, bringing the work to its powerful apogee before dwindling to nothingness on the note where the composition originally started.

The sunny, cheerful opening movement of the Third Piano Concerto (and the playful tone of the whole piece) belies the dire straits of Bartók's final years. Soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet played the opening soliloquy, an ostinato-like folk theme that recalls the folk-dances of the composer's native Hungary with a light, easy touch. Mr. Bavouzet treated this Allegretto as love music, engaging in tender dialogue with Mr. Langrée and the Festival Orchestra.

The Adagio Religioso followed, a slow movement that transported the audience further into the rich, complicated sound-world of this piece. Mr. Langrée drew impressionistic colors from his players while Mr. Bavouzet played the slow chords with poetry and restraint. The finale allowed great opportunity for display and dexterity, but the soloist never let his technical abiltiies outshine the lyric, qualities of this complex, contrapuntal music.

The concert ended with what the Mostly Mozart Festival audience wanted to hear: the composer whose name is after all, on the festival. Mr. Langrée led an energetic, thoroughly respectable performance of the Symphony No. 39, which opens the final triptych of symphonies that remain among Mozart's most popular works.

The musicians of the Festival Orchestra brought fire and vigor to this familiar piece, charging into the opening bars and racing through the movements in a sprightly fashion that was never mannered. The final, rapid-fire chords, ending without a cadence is one of Mozart's better jokes. It seemed to confuse less experienced listeners, who weren't sure that the piece was, in fact, over.
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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.