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Where Familiarity Breathes Content

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
08/19/2008 -  August 20, 2008
Mostly Mozart Festival:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Serenade for Winds in C minor, K. 388 – Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Opus 37

Mihaela Ursuleasa (piano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (clarinet and conductor)

O. Vänskä (© Greg Helgeson)

Not one of the works on the Mostly Mozart Festival last night were rarities, they were composed by the most recognized composers in the Western world, yet when performed with the combination of depth, passion and incisiveness, the trio became, if not new, at least renewed in our memories.

The choice of keys themselves indicated their importance. Mozart and Beethoven each contributed a work in C minor—both composers feeling this was the most dramatic key. The Mozart symphony was in the relative key of E flat major, so the dramatic evening could end with the happily victorious.

Thus the balance. And with a fine young Rumanian pianist, a wonderful octet drawn from the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the dancing conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the concert gave the audience both elevation and contentment.

Not that the opening Mozart Serenade should offer contentment. From its very first ascending notes leading to a sudden fall, one feels a sense of doom. And Mozart never lets up on it until the very last measures. It is not a gloomy work (what could be gloomy with Mozart?) but is certainly very dark.

The eight players from the orchestra, as well as conductor Osmo Vänskä, virtuoso clarinetist in his own right, played with sharp intonation and consistent sense of going forward. The beginning of the second movement was as poignant as possible, leading to incomparable solos. The finale is typical Mozart enigma—a set of somber variations, yet ending with a cheerful ironic last few measures.

But whatever the effect, Mozart the juggler was balanced with Mozart the composer. Those listening to the triple canons in the third movement or the complex counterpoint in the finale variations heard an octet playing with such technique that the intricate engines were almost hidden. By the time the beautiful horn sent a major-key ray of light, it was all over…but the memory.

The Beethoven Third Concerto was essayed by the 30-year-old Mihaela Ursuleasa who, from her first three C-minor scale passages, showed a sureness of touch, and a lightness even through that first long cadenza. The Rumanian, coming from a town just three miles from the most ghostly 14th Century house in the country, didn’t move her most serious visage throughout the concerto. Yet Ms. Ursuleasa’s poetic touch in the Largo could have been written by Chopin. The finale ended with near frenzy, but always in control.

An encore was called for, and the pianist obliged with a toccata by one Paul Constantinescu, the centre of which could have been written by Enescu himself. It was a dazzling performance.

After the intermission, Osmo led the orchestra in Mozart’s 39th Symphony. It was played with verve (helped by Maestro Vänskä’s own graceful dancing on the dais), and ended with a vigorously cheerful finale.

Harry Rolnick



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