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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Concert Review: Grief, Joy, but no Mozart

New world elegance: pianist Nelson Freire.
The composer whose name adorns the festival was absent from Mostly Mozart on Friday night, as the Festival Orchestra offered a program pairing Stravinsky's Symphony in C with Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Nelson Freire made his Festival debut as the featured soloist in the latter work.

Igor Stravinsky's neo-classical period saw the composer turn away from programmatic ballets in an effort to write pure music. But the wartime Symphony in C has autobiographical elements, with its relentless opening and melancholy writing for the wind section. Small wonder: Stravinsky had begun his wartime exile from Europe.

The mournful Larghetto may reference the deaths of his wife and daughter from tuberculosis. Mr. Langree led an eloquent reading of this underperformed work, with superb playing from the bassoons, oboe and English horn. The grim Largo that ends the work in a series of hushed, mysterious chords that never quite climax, created a spellbinding effect.

The Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire played Beethoven's Fourth piano concerto with Old World elegance. Subtly accompanied by Mr. Langree, Mr. Freire played the arpeggiated runs and figures with a sweet, almost joyful tone, offering an almost pastoral tour through the opening movement. This was pianism of a high order, gracious but with a restrained power underneath.

The slow movement of this concerto bears some resemblance to the composer's Waldstein sonata, in that it serves as a lead-up to a dazzling finale. Again, Mr. Freire spoke with his fingers, winding out the lazy melodies with ease. But there was nothing languid about the finale, a joyful storm up and down the keyboard with Mr. Freire's sure technique leading the charge.

Mr. Freire added to the work's challenges by playing the cadenzas of composer/pianist Ferrucio Busoni. Busoni, one of the most underperformed and challenging composers of the early 20th century, elaborated and expanded Beethoven's original work as part of his own concert repertory. The cadenzas are challenging: of such complexity that they amount to works in themselves.

The short concert was followed by an enthusiastic reception. Mr. Freire's first encore was a transcription from Gluck's opera Orfeo et Euridice, played with elegance and warmth. The second piece, a searching work that fell between impressionism and modal jazz, was from the 20th century and probably penned in Mr. Freire's native Brazil. It might have been by Villa-Lobos.

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