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Edited for Television

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
08/21/2001 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto # 22; Requiem; Ave, verum corpus
Emanuel Ax (piano)
Ute Selbig (soprano)
Florence Quivar (mezzo)
Michael Schade (tenor)
Richard Zeller (baritone)
Dessoff Symphonic Choir
Kent Tritle (director)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Gerard Schwarz (conductor)

Nothing would please me more than to inform my readers that Gerard Schwarz made a triumphant return to the Mostly Mozart Festival stage last evening and delivered a powerful performance of the Requiem and perhaps he did, but, since I was actually in the audience at Avery Fisher Hall, I have very little conception of the quality of the musical product. The problem was that the proceedings were being presented for television (with its vagaries dictating that the concert, being touted as “live” on Wednesday night was being taped on Tuesday) and so the upper atmosphere of the stage area was a conceptual art piece of wiring resembling a huge bowl of black vermicelli. The miking of the voices produced the surreal effect of the soloists sounding as if they each possessed the exact same volume range (this is why I never go to the New York City Opera any longer) and making any sort of critical evaluation impossible. I am partial to the voice of Florence Quivar but can’t really report on her strength and intonation this night. The same sort of acoustical soup haunted the performance of the Dessoff Choir, who appeared to be very well prepared and executing their parts in a professional manner. Alas, those of us in the hall needed to take a lot on faith this night.

Adding yet another layer of obfuscation was the ridiculous grafting of the motet Ave, verum corpus onto the main work of the evening. We were all properly warned in the program notes not to applaud at the end of the Requiem and Schwarz’ bold gesture kept the crowd silent so that the simple, consolatory work could be seamlessly added to the wildly disturbing mass which, through a great irony, serves as the de facto funerary piece for Mozart himself. I have experienced this type of genetic engineering before. In this same hall, David Robertson conducted the prelude from Tristan and Schoenberg’s expressionistic opera Erwartung without pause, leaving us all to wonder what the devil was going on. In that case, although the music fit quite nicely harmonically, it was anyone’s guess as to why we were exposed to such an unnatural act of fusion. Last evening, however, the motivation was disturbingly clear: the Requiem is so primeval and viscerally nerve-jangling that some form of palliative was deemed necessary (I can only speculate as to whether this relates to the TV broadcast). Again, the harmonic link was smooth, but this type of manipulation is a slap in the master’s face, albeit with a velvet glove. Mr. Schwarz should hold this bizarre type of prettification for future performance at the still under construction Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Another question which begs to be asked is why, if he feels the need not to ultimately offend the delicate sensibilities of his listeners, did Schwarz conduct the Requiem proper in such a raucous manner (an approach that I find quite deliciously appropriate, by the way). What was probably an excellent performance just left me shaking my head in disbelief.

All of this was preceded by a competent, if not revelatory, performance of the 22nd Piano Concerto featuring Emanuel Ax. It seemed a bit of an off night for the soloist as there were quite a number of misplayed notes and passages, however there was a delicately elegant atmosphere communicated which properly nurtured the work as a whole. Mr. Ax asked that the wind section stand and share in the initial applause after the reading and this was appropriate as they did a fine job of enunciation (in fact, the orchestra played their hearts out for their soon to be departing director). I didn’t realize it at the time, but this rather pedestrian rendition was to be the highlight of the evening. At least for this part of the program it was the mikes and not the listeners that were turned off.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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