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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Concert Review: Between Sacred Songs, a Secular Symphony

At Mostly Mozart, Ivan Fischer puts the Jupiter in context.
Ivan Fischer demonstrates a new baton technique.
Photo courtesy the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Tuesday night at Mostly Mozart featured an innovative program of that composer's music under the baton of Hungarian maestro Iván Fischer. At its heart stood Mozart's 41st and final symphony, the Jupiter.

This is one of Mozart's most well-known and popular symphonies. But instead of using its grand pre-Romantic gestures to ring down the curtain on the evening, Mr. Fischer placed it second, between the choral motet Ave verum corpus and the Vesperae solennes de confessore, a setting of five Psalms and the Magnificat written at the end of Mozart's Salzburg years.

Mr. Fischer led this concert with the same technique as in the excellent Don Giovanni performances of last week. He balanced the orchestral forces, driving them forward while allowing the melodies room to blossom and breathe. Ave verum corpus was sung with delicacy and simple faith. It led into a brief organ melody from Kent Tritle. As the chorus members filed out (as if they were leaving church,) Mr. Fischer lauched into Jupiter.

The opening movement was played with jubilance and strength. Mr. Fischer created a narrative flow that led into the Andante with its lyric subject. The rhythms of the minuet, were firm and precise. The complex finale, with its fugal sections and difficult wind parts was taken a mite slower than some conductors, allowing fresh details to emerge with the color and vibrancy of a restored painting.

It was refreshing to hear the instrumental Jupiter contrasted with liturgical music. This illuminated the influences that went into writing this great work. (Not everything in this boisterous symphony is sacred however--the last movement alludes to a certain vulgar choral round, also written by Mozart. It's K. 231. Look it up.)

Whether working with his own Budapest Festival Orchestra or the Mostly Mozart band, Mr. Fischer has proven himself able to make listeners hear familiar music with new ears. But he also made the less familiar Vesperae shine forth with clarity and beauty. The opening "Dixit Dominus" was a rock-like statement of faith, with deep power and commitment. The fourth movement, "Laudate pueri" had a Bach-like precision. Soprano Lucy Crowe soared through "Laudate Dominum", a gorgeous aria worthy of one of Mozart's operas. The final Magnificat was played with exultation, a gorgeous affirmation of Mozart's genius and the abilities of this remarkable conductor.

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