Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
Now that Mozart's 250th birthday year is safely behind us, an all-Mozart concert can be welcomed not merely out of duty but for pure pleasure -- as a full house for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's final "Masterworks" on April 27 clearly suggested.
It's so easy to think of Mozart bursting fully matured from the brow of, well, Leopold Mozart, that we forget he did go through some phases of development. This WCO program gave us a taste of three such.
The opening work was the wonderful "Prague" Symphony, No. 38 in D. Nos. 39-41 are justly celebrated as a culminating trilogy, but No. 38 should not be overshadowed. Only in three movements, it is a magnificent combination of Mozart's operatic spirit with his sophisticated symphonic logic. The string band of just nineteen players was a little thin, and balance between choirs was sometimes less than tight in the exuberant playing. But it is always a joy to hear the wind parts emerge with the greater clarity allowed, with first flute Robin Fellows and first oboe Naomi Bensdorf making particularly telling contributions, as mustered by maestro Andrew Sewell.
The soloist this time was the brilliant young American pianist Adam Neiman, a player of remarkable skill and taste. As his vehicles he brought two of Mozart's youthful Concertos, ones that lie precisely on either side of the border between Mozart's earlier, still-developing creativity and the first evidence of his fuller maturity.
Both concertos were written to be played not by himself but by two female patrons, obviously musicians of differing character. The "Concerto No. 8 in C major" (K.246) was intended for a Countess LÃ¼tzow. It is an engaging but easygoing affair which Neiman treated with affectionate care.
The "Concerto No. 9 in E-flat" (K.271), is named for a certain Mlle. Jeunehomme, clearly a player whose talent challenged Mozart to new levels of scale and imagination. Composed only a year later than its predecessor, it is simply bursting with ideas and originality. Such a challenge also brought into play Neiman's full talents: his command of virtuosic technique, of subtle nuances, and of dynamic contrasts.
To these were added, in the elegant cadenza of the first movement, a supple rubato that foreshadowed more to come in the second movement, a minor-key piece with "tragic" power equal to anything Mozart conceived later. It even seemed to anticipate, surprisingly, the style of Chopin yet to come, at least in Neiman's hands. Such delicacy was evident also in the thoughtful solos passages in the Rondo finale, but its fast main theme Neiman ripped off with breakneck precision.
Such a triumphant display of music-making! It is good news that the WCO will soon be issuing a CD release of its Mozart with Neiman. I've already ordered my copy.