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WCO: Mozart
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Program
Mozart: Symphony No. 17 in G Major, K. 129
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat Major, K. 271
Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201

Performers
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
Leon Bates, piano
David Crosby, conductor

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With subtle humor, remarkable lyricism, and great passion pianist Leon Bates firmly established himself as a real master musician in the all-Mozart program with which the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its current indoor season, as they call it, at the First Congregational Church Saturday evening.

An interesting aspect of the program was that all three works were scored for the true chamber-sized group of strings with minimal winds. The Symphony No. 17 in G Major, K. 129 was crisply articulated and cleanly played, with an especially expressive account of the slow movement (andante). The addition of a fourth movement, interpolating a movement from the Symphony No. 16 in C Major, K. 128 ahead of the original finale, did not in my opinion serve this performance well. It made the first half of the concert have an appropriate length, but musically I think it would have been better to have nothing, since the more usual minuet with trio was missing.

The Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201 filled the second half of the program. It's one of Mozart's most engaging works and benefitted greatly, I thought, from observing all the repeats in the score, though the playing was a little less precise in matters of ensemble, with a few noticeable if forgivable flubs in the high-altitude horn parts. The tempi made good musical sense, though I like the opening allegro moderato to be slightly less moderato than Crosby took it. The enchanting andante and minuetto with trio were suitably brisk, and the concluding allegro con spirito was very brisk indeed. There was an angularity and tenseness overall in the direction that passed over a number of opportunities for nuance, I thought.

But nuance was the name of the game when it came to the Piano Concerto No.9 in E-Flat Major, K. 271. Bates gave a solid, thoroughly convincing performance of the opening allegro, with very precise playing and a complete mastery of the notes. But it was in the second movement, marked andantino, that his real artistry shone forth with greatest brilliance. In a slow movement it's rarely a matter of getting the right notes, it's matter of getting the notes right, and that Bates did in a most delicate and affecting way. There's an enormous amount of leeway for interpretation in Mozart, though it must always lie within a range consistent with the style. This was an extraordinarily poetic reading, with a sense of shape to every phrase, and -- most important of all -- a convincing sense of completing every phrase. I can think of no higher compliment to pay a pianist than to say that he finishes phrases really well, which Bates certainly did! The finale, which is generally a rondo marked presto, is highly unusual in having a complete minuetto smack in the middle. Mozart probably considered this a great joke, but in the given instance, it offered another opportunity for Bates to display his great expressivity, for the minuetto's delicious material is first exposed by the soloist. It was a very impressive performance indeed, and at its conclusion, there were instant shouts of "Bravo!" including some from me. I hope this fellow comes back, for I would love to hear him in recital.

Isthmus, October, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson




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