Last Saturday night’s concert in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart Festival brought few surprises but instead served up a couple of hours of contentment. This was achieved through a well-balanced program – a mixture of very well known works and less familiar but worthy examples of the composer’s craft.
Craft, too, in the style taken by the conductor for the night, well-known harpsichordist Richard Egarr. He brought to the performance the soloist’s attention to detail and intimate knowledge of the works (even conducting the symphony without the score in front of him!). Egarr is more associated with the Baroque repertoire, but even that was a plus as there was a precision and lack of sentimentality about his interpretation of the three items that made up the concert. These were, in order:
Ballet music from Idomeneo
Piano concerto No.23 in A
Symphony number 40 in G minor, K550
Lending a theatrical element to the performance, presenter Eadric Ayres read letters that were written by Mozart at various stages of his life, and to him by members of the family, particularly his father. Financial considerations and difficulties dominated but there was enough in the text of the letters to suggest how popular Mozart’s music was throughout Europe.
The first item, the Chaconne and Pas de Seul from Mozart’s Opera Idomeneo, illustrated why 18th century society welcomed Mozart’s music as an intrinsic part of their entertainment. Scored for an orchestra of about 30, most of them string players, the ballet music began with quintessential Mozartian techniques: broken chords and repeated notes, delivered delicately by the strings. Although there was no formal structure, (as found in the piano concerto and symphony to come), the middle subject was slow and suggested an andante; thus benefiting from a sensitive exploration of the melody before a faster “movement” led to a dramatic and exciting conclusion which would have not been out of place in one of the later symphonies. As a curtain raiser for this concert the choice could hardly have been better.
The piano concerto came next. As usual with the composer it conformed to Classical structure, but that served as a conventional context for something far more original: Mozart’s beautiful understanding of the piano when matched with an orchestra. It needed no fireworks but instead charmed with a gentle opening in which the winds played a significant part. Egarr’s conducting was precise yet the sound was fluid and the phrasing delicate.
The piano entry, as by performed by Kristian Beduizenhout mirrored the orchestra, matching them in empathy for the work. Again came the Mozart trademarks: the arpeggios and repeated notes, and one impressive phrase in which a trill in the right-hand was set against a fast-moving chromatic scale, in the left. Beduizenhout’s feeling for the piece was unforced, his technical skills underpinning the whole performance. The contrasting moods of the three movements (including Mozart’s own cadenza) afforded him plenty of opportunity to show these two characteristics of his playing, with good attention given to dynamics, and rubatos at cadences.
The final movement, a rondo, experimented with rhythms and melody but was always light-hearted as presented by Egarr and Beduizenhout. The shift to a dance-like Allegro to complete the work set the scene for one of the most delicate and delightful endings possible, as Beduizenhout’s fingers scampered down the keyboard in a final show of brilliance.
Following a conventional path for a concert of this scope, the MSO concluded with one of Mozart’s two G minor symphonies, No.40. Your reviewer found herself taken aback at the opening theme which, while well known, was not the opening I had expected, namely from the symphony featured in the film Amadeus. Nevertheless, it was a good choice to round off the program, despite its more sombre mood. Having shown itself equal to Mozart’s many moods – from frivolous ballet music to a well-contrasted and finely crafted concerto, the orchestra met its most demanding challenge of the night with its customary finesse.
Egarr appeared to have his eye on every player, a necessary approach, perhaps, as so much of the symphony has strong emotions, at times combined with particularly fast passages. any other approach could have courted disaster, even given the individual prowess of the members of the orchestra. Key changes and rhythmic experimentation are just two elements of this work, with even the Menuetto more than just a pretty dance.
For the audience, especially those attending more than one concert in this festival, this was a rewarding experience, a glimpse of the more mature Mozart who could as easily tackle a sustained composition in the minor key, without losing any of the ability to capture an audience and keep it in his strong grip. This is not to say listening to this Symphony was a grim experience; the mellow winds, such as Prue Davis’s flute, guaranteed this would not be so. Rather, it left the listener proud (once again) of the quality of our great Melbourne Symphony Orchestra that is worthy of hosting conductors of the calibre of Richard Egarr.
Editor’s note: Mozart aficionados will be pleased that the “other” G minor symphony (No.25) and the film Amadeus will be presented this weekend as part of the Mozart festival. However, there are only a few tickets left for the two performances of this work, and the Mozart Requiem has sold out.
Check with the MSO site to book.www.mso.com.au