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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 7, 2016

Concert Review: Lifting the Shroud

Paavo Järvi and Martin Fröst at Mostly Mozart.
The man and his horn: clarinetist Martin Fröst.
Photo from
The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra  got a chance to flex its musical muscles on Friday evening. They played the Clarinet Concerto by their namesake composer, bracketed by works from Arvo Pärt and Ludwig van Beethoven. This week’s guest conductor  was Paavo Järvi, eldest son of the conductor Neeme Järvi and (like his father) a versatile maestro with respectable international credentials.

Arvo Pärt is a composer whose name evokes mysticism and nebulous cascades of sound, a sort of spiritual heir to Olivier Messiaen. This was the New York premiere of La Sindone, a tone poem meditating on the Shroud of Turin, the religious artifact that may have been Christ’s burial cloth. Like the composer’s best work, it was deeply rooted in staunch religious faith and his own unique compositional voice. 

This was atypical Pärt, with storms of anguish erupting from the small arsenal of percussion packed out the stage behind the strings. Heavy, slab-like chords hung in the air, evoking suffering and prompting the listener to meditate on the Passio. Eventually the dolorous, descending chords took an upward turn inviting the possibility of resurrection and ending the work in a bright and starry ascent.

Following this serious work, the Clarinet Concerto by Mozart may seem like light fare. However the supple tone and nimble hands of guest clarinetist Martin Fröst reminded the listener that this piece is a stellar product of that magic and tragic final year of Mozart's life. Mr. Fröst played a unique basset clarinet, with a longer body and deeper voice than the usual instrument. This enabled one to hear something closer to the composer’s original intent, with the voice of the solo instrument joining the tutti in song before bursting into flights of arpeggiated notes.

As an encore, Mr. Fröst and Mr. Järvi offered the New York premiere of Klezmer No. 2, a collaboration between the clarinetist and his brother Johann Fröst. Introduced to the audience I that the subtitle “Don’t Worry”, this proved to be a work at once mournful and exuberant, and a chance for the soloist to prove his virtuosity and versatility with the orchestra offering playful accompaniment.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 will always be a dark horse in his catalog. Coming as it does between the Eroica and the fate-driven Fifth, it is frequently overlooked or played as an obligatory entry in a festival of this composers music. Here, the Mostly Mozart forces played the work with passion and commitment, showing the deep musical thought that went into the building of its four movements and the boisterous sound of the great man at play.

They were great pleasure to be heard here, from the soft wind chords  of the introduction, transitioning brusquely to the full tilt of the allegro. With its stuttering rhythm, the andante evoked a folk band that  couldn't quite remember the tune it had been playin. The last two movements were joyful and full of good spirits, with Mr. Järvi taking a playful, long formats before the crashing final bars.

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