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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.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Concert Review: The Intimate Mozart

The New York Philharmonic goes all classicist.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young composer uses Ultra-Brite™.
An all-Mozart program by a major symphony orchestra is an unusual undertaking in that it uses a proportionately small number of musicians playing on the vast stage of a venue like David Geffen Hall. For last week's concert, Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic chose an unusual program: setting aside the usual fare (opera overtures, piano concertos and symphonies) for lesser known works from the composer's enormous catalogue.

Wednesday night's concert opened with the Divertimento in D Major for strings. Written when Mozart was 16 years old and working on the opera Lucio Silla it is a work that shows the young composer as a fully developed musical force already ten years into his compositional career. (the title on the score is not in Mozart's hand). Here, Mr. Gilbert led an arrangement for mid-sized string orchestra in a light and galant performance with bright colors from the violins and warmth from the cello section.

Philharmonic principal horn Philip Myers is one of the most celebrated masters of his instrument. However, Wednesday night's performance of the Horn Concerto No. 2 was marred by throaty, blurry tone as if he could not quite shake the spit from his instrument. Horns are notoriously temperemental instruments, and the sound and color of his improved remarkably in the central slow movement. The fleet-fingered soloist raced Mr. Gilbert through the final rondo providing the most spark in this performance.

The second half of the program featured the Serenade for 13 Winds also known as the Gran Partita. Written for paired oboes, clarinets, basset horns, bassoons, four horns and one double bass, this featured some of the very best players of the Philharmonic making the cavernous space of David Geffen Hall curiously intimate. This is also may be Mozart's longest instrumental composition: seven movements and lasting from 45 minutes to a solid hour.

Oboist Liang Wang served as concertmaster, seated directly across from first clarinet Anthony McGill. These two soloists were part of a shifting and moving fabric of sound, woven from golden threads. The full wind sections played almost like the pipes of a great organ, with the mellifluous and unusual timbre of the basset horns supporting the nimble clarinets and Judith LeClair's bassoon underneath Mr. Wang's oboe.

Alan Gilbert led the movements, making some unusual and idiosyncratic tempo choices. The third movement particularly suffered, with an andante substituting for the written Adagio. The walking tempo did not help the poetry of this movement, spoiling the singing line of the oboe. Matters improved in the faster movements, with intricate sixth movement, a theme and variations being a particular highlight. 
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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.