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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Concert Review: A Pair of Aces

Two debuts spark Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dynamic debut: Sol Gabetta.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The Mostly Mozart Festival's adherence to familiar composers and repertories makes the month-long festival invaluable: not just as a summer retreat for the music lover but as a working laboratory for New Yorkers to hear new artists and new conductors, some of whom are making their first appearances at Lincoln Center.

On Wednesday night, cellist Sol Gabetta and conductor Cornelius Meister made their respective Festival debuts with a strong and thoroughly traditional program: Mozart's Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, Haydn's Cello Concerto in C and the Beethoven Symphony No. 4. This was the first of two concerts for Ms. Gabetta this evening--she was also booked to play at the chamber music soirée that Lincoln Center dubs A Little Night Music.

The Figaro overture remains one of Mozart's most charming and energetic creations. Mr. Meister injected energy and lift into this familiar music, with crisp strings and starched woodwind lines suggesting the whirl of the Almaviva household. This piece is always a welcome visitor and a strong selection for a conductor taking his first bow on the contoured Mostly Mozart stage.

Strong though it was, Mr. Meister's debut was eclipsed the moment Ms. Gabetta entered. The Argentine cellist played the solo part in the Haydn concerto with a bright and slightly reedy tone, indicating the arrival of an individual and idiosyncratic voice on this all-important instrument. All wonderful but better things were to come.

She followed the Haydn with a compelling and haunting encore that featured plucked tone-rows, a surprisingly lush melody for lower strings and most stunning of all, singing by the cellist herself in counterpoint to the complex lines that she was playing. The piece was revealed to be a movement (marked Dolcissimo) of The Book, a contemporary work created for Ms. Gabetta by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. The work was created specifically for cello and human voice, two instruments usually not paired together in this kind of isolation. The results were utterly compelling.

The second half of the concert featured Mr. Meister leading the Festival Orchestra in a bold and redemptive account of the Beethoven Symphony No. 4. Bold, for its brisk tempos, sense of play and gorgeous playing from the ace woodwind section. Redemptive, because the Festival two years ago was dogged by a sluggish slate of Beethoven works, and it is nice to hear this great composer getting proper treatment once more.

At the Kaplan Penthouse, the attraction here was Ms. Gabetta, paired with the vital Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev. They chose that Everest of duets, the G minor Sonata by Rachmaninoff. With its heroic piano part (written for the composer's own superhuman physical gifts) and difficult, angular cello line, this massive sonata was shown to be rich and rewarding, as was the thoroughly Romantic “Fantasy on Two Russian Airs by cellist-composer Adrien-François Servais. Two mighty encores (a Chopin transcription by Aleksandr Glazunov and the madcap second movement from the Shostakovich Sonata for Cello and Piano.

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