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Friday, August 17, 2012

Concert Review: Romantic Living

Osmo Vänskä conducts at Mostly Mozart. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Rudolf Buchbinder. Photo by Marco Borggreve.
In recent decades, the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has earned a deserved reputation as a classicist. His specialty: crisp, reliable readings of repertory standards, presented in a refreshing manner that always respects the written score.

On Wednesday night at Mostly Mozart, Mr. Vänskä turned his cerebral approach to works by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. This was a performance that reflected the classical spirit of the festival but pointed the way forward to the 19th century and the birth of the Romantic movement.

The program opened with Mozart's Symphony No. 32, a single movement in four parts that may have been intended as a curtain-raiser the unfinished opera Zaide. Under Mr. Vänskä's hand, the value of this underrated gem shone forth clearly. He drew a clean, clear texture from the strings, a warm tone from the woodwinds and enthusiastic, noble solos from the horns who are asked to masquerade as other instruments in this particular score.

Mr. Vänskä was then joined by Rudolf Buchbinder for Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, a well-traveled work that served as the model for the complex develpment of that form in the 19th century. Playing the composer's original cadenzas, Mr. Buchbinder reminded the audience of Beethoven's formidable qualities, both as a creator and performer of his own music. The melodic lines of the piano were ably supported by Mr. Vänskä in the first movement, exploding across the keyboards in a scintillating, playful display.

The second movement allows the pianist to take the "pocket" for a while, as Beethoven tasks the soloist with providing rhythmic support for the orchestral musicians. The Mostly Mozart players were well suited to this sudden shift in the lielight, delivering  soulful wind solos before yielding the focus to Mr. Buchbinder and the song-like melody issuing from his fingers.

The finale that followed was infused with the fierce jubilation that is central to any successful Beethoven performance. As Mr. Buchbinder arpeggioed and trilled his way up the keyboard, Mr. Vänskä moved right beside him, cuing the orchestra in the final repetitions of the rondo theme. Orchestra and soloist drew forth the rough humor of the composer, the sound of complex counterpoint that nonetheless rewrote the rulebook for the piano concerto.

Schubert's Ninth Symphony (nicknamed the Great for its gigantic scale and ambitious structure) had to wait fifteen years for its premiere in 1840, twelve years after the composer's death. The grand, slow theme of the opening emerged nobly from the horns, a chorale-like idea with repetitions and pauses that served as a blueprint for the major works of Anton Bruckner.

The slow movement and scherzo followed, played with transparency of orchestral sound and evoking both the elegant salons of 19th century Vienna and the high spirits of Schubert's immediate social circle. The finale, where two deceptively simple melodic ideas battle for a dominant posiion proved to be thrilling, with sonorous trombones underpinning the already superb brass and wind of the Festival Orchestra.
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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.