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17 Years and Out

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
08/10/2001 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture to The Ruins of Athens; Piano Concerto # 3
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Concerto # 5; Symphony # 40

Andreas Haefliger (piano)
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Andreas Delfs (conductor)

Although it seems that the Mostly Mozart festival was created out of whole cloth by Gerard Schwarz many years ago, actually he joined midstream, transforming the annual event from a curiosity to a major stop on the New York musical tour. As a teenaged trumpet virtuoso studying composition with Paul Creston at the fabled Ansonia Hotel, Schwarz absorbed the feel of the urban atmosphere around him and became a student of Gotham musical history (I once heard him rhapsodize on discovering the street where Bartok lived), carrying this particular buzz into his mature years as director of this now venerable concert series. But all good things must come to an end and this season is his last at Lincoln Center. With no successor announced, the festival is surviving on guest conductors this year with predictably mixed results.

Either one or both Andreas appear to have mistaken the festival’s title for stylistic instructions. The Beethoven Piano Concerto # 3, the first significant airing of his mighty individual voice, was presented as if it were just another Mozart piece performed in the ubiquitous contemporary vapid manner. Some of the elements of greatness were of course there in the music: the hesitant and noticeably pedestrian opening snippets of melody fashioned by Beethoven into a profound and celebratory synthesis, the disquieting E major opening of the second movement, when the ear expects E Flat, the rollicking phrases of the third movement ameliorating the sorrow of the slow section (anticipating the ”Emperor”). However, this type of unemotional reading would have been just as appropriate for a piece by Czerny or Hummel. Mr. Haefliger hit virtually all of the notes (a marked improvement from his last Mozart with the Minnesota Orchestra at Carnegie) but missed almost all of the music. Technically, there was no decided contrast between lyrical passages and steely-fingered staccato, the monumentally innovative cadenza just another quotidian rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter Song. The accompaniment was also colorlessly phrased, spawn of the wallpaper school of Mozartian interpretation.

Glenn Gould was fond of saying that rather than dying too early, Mozart actually died too late. Beyond the shock value of the statement, there lurks a cogent point. Mr. Gould was a passionate devotee of the early piano sonatas and argued that what eclipsed them in the public mind was the great output of the mature composer. Considering that Mozart was famous in his day not as a master creator but rather a savant, it is interesting to speculate on how these juvenilia would have survived down to the present had he not composed Don Giovanni or the ”Jupiter”. The five Violin Concerti belong in this twilight category, remarkable for having been composed by a young man but not as meaty as we have come to expect from such a great composer. The performance in question was saved by the irresistibly singing tone of Christian Tetzlaff and the steady beat of the maestro du jour. The G Minor was adequately communicated but only from a hillock rather than Olympus. The festival orchestra is smallish (only four violas and four celli) and thus produces the sound which most of us are now conditioned to admire for our 18th century music. Mr. Delfs was impressive in his dynamic contrasts, however a distracting sloppiness in the horn section left this performance always circling the notes rather than hitting their bull’s eye. Perfectly acceptable summer fare, this concert was oddly reminiscent of the origins of Mostly Mozart before Schwarz.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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