Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Season Finale at the Philharmonic

(photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Alan Gilbert, Conductor
Emanuel Ax, Piano
Jennifer Zetlan, Soprano
Jennifer Johnson Cano, Mezzo-Soprano
Paul Appleby, Tenor
Joshua Hopkins, Baritone
New York Choral Artists, Joseph Flummerfelt, Director

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482 (1785)
MOZART Mass in C Minor, Great, K. 427 (1782)

Last Wednesday I attended the final subscription concert of the New York Philharmonic featuring Emanuel Ax in an all-Mozart program.

Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No. 22 at the same time as The Marriage of Figaro, which might explain the concerto's almost narrative melodic structure. Its themes, which include lovely passages for the clarinet, unfold in a graciously regal manner with keyboard passages that are like extended arias. Ax's interpretation was quietly refined and free of any flourishes. It was a pleasure to listen to him.

Ax will be the orchestra's artist in residence next season. His upcoming concerts will include works for piano by Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg, and a modern piece by Christopher Rouse. It will be interesting to hear him in these varied pieces.

Like his Requiem, Mozart's Mass in C Minor is an unfinished liturgical masterpiece that features a soprano/mezzo/tenor/baritone quartet alternating with the choral parts. The Mass isn't quite as dark as the Requiem but is nevertheless full of solemn beauty. Zetlan, Cano, Applyby, and Hopkins performed admirably, and the New York Choral Artists were magnificent.

Gilbert once said:
Mozart's music looks deceptively easy on the page, and it's deceptively simple sounding, but he actually poses a great challenge....

Mozart does not put a lot of instruction in his scores. there are suprisingly few dynamics, and almost no changes of tempo. Other composers, such as Mahler, hand much of the interpretation to the performer on a platter; you know when he wants less, or more, and when he wants rubato. With Mozart the roadmap is not specifically determined. 
As a Mozart interpreter, Gilbert is very much a classicist. While he conducted the concerto and the Mass with a natural sense of balance, he also drew out the melancholy and dramatic aspects of the music within the framework of classical decorum: always correct and never overtly sentimental.

It's been great rediscovering the Philharmonic during the second half of the 2011-12 season. I've subscribed to an eight concert series for next season, which will include some favorites such as Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, Elgar's Enigma Variations, and Handel's Messiah. I'm looking forward to it.

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