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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Concert Review: The Three Faces of Wolfgang

Mostly Mozart tours the composer's symphonies.
Pianist Richard Goode. Photo from Frank Salomon and Associates © 2016
Fifty years ago, Mostly Mozart was born. Its mission: bring Mozart's music to Manhattanites in the dog days of summer. The idea of an indoor (and air-conditioned) summer festival proved popular with concert-goers. In recent years, the Festival has veered from this mission, incorporating Beethoven and even Brahms in its programming. However this week's program, conducted by Louis Langrée and featuring New York-based pianist Richard Goode was true to the original mission: it was all Mozart.

The concert opened with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchesta configured for the baroque style, with a harpsichord added to thicken the texture of Mozart's Symphony No. 1. This work, written when the composer was just eight years old, is remakrbable for condensing a lot of musical thought into three movements lasting a total of thirteen minutes. Unusually for a symphony, the prominent keyboard part even had its own cadenza, inserted into the middle of the central slow movement. 

Richard Goode is something of an anomaly among virtuosos. A silver-headed, venerable figure, he almost always insists on playing virtuoso concertos with sheet music before him, and yet his performances always sound unforced and spontaneous. Those two qualities could apply to his performance of the Piano Concerto No. 12, a work from Mozart's 17th year, when the young Mozart was court composer to Hieronymous von Colloredo, the Archbishop of Salzburg, a relationship that would ultimately prove unsuccessful.

Mozart wrote his ever-more-difficult series of concertos as concert vehicles, and the piano parts require a great deal of precision and lightness of touch at the keyboard. Mr. Goode brought both of those qualities to the opening movement of  No. 12, an entirely genial dispute between soloist and tutti. They eventually came to agreement and moved on to the more serious business of the slow movement. This contains a quote from Mozart's friend and early mentor, Johann Christian Bach.

Mr. Goode played this movement with a delicate touch that looks easier than it is, meeting the challenge of creating Mozart's gossamer cadenzas and warm, singing tone, so very like the arias and duets in his operas. The fleet final movement was played with the same sense of perfect grace, its repetitions dovetailing with the phrases from the ensemble. The Mostly Mozart orchestra continued to play in fine form, with the strings and oboes answering in taut phrases as the movement rocketed to a close. 

The concert ended with the beloved Symphony No. 41. Nicknamed Jupiter but probably not by the composer, this final symphony echoes back to the aforementioned Symphony No. 1, quoting one of its themes in a Mozartean moment of self-reference. The orchestra gave a brisk and energetic performance of these four familiar movements. Following the work, Mr. Langree took the microphone to announce that in celebration of the fact that Mozart had in fact finished the symphony on Aug. 10, 1788, he offered a joyous repetition of the final coda to cap the evening. 

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