Mostly Mozart-Free Mostly Mozart
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
Arvo Pärt: La Sindone
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
Martin Fröst (clarinet)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor)
P. Järvi (© Kaupo Kikkas)
“The fair maiden between two giants”
Robert Schumann referring to Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony
Paavo Järvi has been a regular conductor each summer at the Mostly Mozart Festival for a number of years, his concerts being often the most highly praised and well attended. He began the evening with a piece from his native Estonia. La Sindone means “the Shroud” and this revised version sans choir was given its world premiere in New York in 2014 by the New Juilliard Ensemble.
Although the religious context eludes many in a twenty-first century audience, the piece is instantly remarkable for its combinations of instruments and its exploration of unusual overtonal pairings. Only ten minutes in length, this essay covers a lot of ground, culminating in a concluding section wherein the echoes from the chimes blend enticingly with the intoned instrumental passages. Certainly a refreshing aural experience, executed mysteriously yet intelligibly by the orchestra.
No movement in all of music can match the Adagio of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto for sublimity, unless it is the slow movement of the contemporaneous Clarinet Quintet. Written at the very end of his short life, it teases the possibilities of what music would have become had Wolfgang lived even another ten years (this phenomenon is also applicable to Schubert and Berg).
Tonight’s interpretation was rather disappointing. Clarinetist Fröst was competent enough as an enunciator but sorely lacking as a communicator. Almost totally absent was the Mozartian humor which, when taken out of the mix, leaves a cavernous hole that both soloist and ensemble fell into rather embarrassingly. There was an eerie lack of spirit in this interpretation and what remained was a by rote reading that, to be fair, was almost note perfect but not at all satisfactory. Stadler would not have approved.
Where does the 4th rank in the nonet of Beethoven symphonies? As Schumann suggests, it is one of the most beautiful and houses a consistent delight in every measure. There is a brightness that shines through, leaving this sunny work unique in the literature. Certainly the case can be made for its primacy. Much of this essay’s mood and appeal depends on the approach of its performance.
Maestro opted for a modern styling, paring down his orchestra to its barest bones – there were, for example, but three string basses – and clipping his phrases in the succinct style of our era. With this as a starting point, he drew crisp performances from his forces –I am always amazed at how the Mostly Mozart Orchestra can get together for only a few weeks each season and still sound like they have played together all year – with no nonsense tempi and sharply hewn silences. All in all this was a fine performance, although once again some of the spirit was absent. Oddly, Mr. Järvi took two beats near the end of the finale to turn around and give a sharp look to the audience. Perhaps he was castigating them for cellphone abuse and applause between movements, although this particular maneuver was unclear.
Finally, a word about the logistics of Mostly Mozart. It is, of course, not unusual in Europe to have some audience in back of the players, but it is particularly rare in America. Here at this yearly festival the stage is transported out to the first few rows of the seats of the paying customers and hundreds can hear the concert from modified bleachers at the rear of the ensemble. Having been a percussionist for over 60 years, I am fluent in the reverse parabola that is the nature of these unusual seating arrangements, however for first time listeners the Alice in Wonderland sound can be a bit overwhelming.