CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 18 MAY 2006
Arnold Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 2 in E-flat Minor, Op. 38. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 16 in D Major, K. 451; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 25 in C major, K. 503. (Mitsuko Uchida, p.; Andrew Grams, cond.)
And so the semiquincentennial celebrations plod on. Works by Mozart perch confidently atop the favorite music lists of both the Pope and Condoleezza Rice. According to the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual Repertoire Report, Mozart is, nationwide, the most performed composer of the 2005-2006 season. Ballet fans in Sofia last Sunday could have treated themselves to the premiere of Mozart?—with a question mark—directed by a ballerina notorious for her appearance in the Bulgarian Playboy. Tourists in Vienna can visit a renovated Mozarthaus and, from what I can gather from its website, ogle a table that might or might not have been in the general vicinity when Mozart composed The Magic Flute and a panpipe that might or might not have had something to do with inspiring it.
So, too, continues the complete series of Mozart concertos performed by Mitsuko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra. After this weekend, someone can head to the big board one imagines backstage at Severance Hall and dutifully tick off numbers 16 and 25. And yet, if the programming seems by now a bit routine, the performances do not.
Uchida's playing Thursday night seemed a little different than usual, as if she had exchanged a bit of control for a sizable gain in spontaneity. The result was often exciting. In the Andante of K. 451, her piano playing seemed to push forward against the tempo she had set for the orchestra, heightening the movement's tension. And her cadenza in the first movement of K. 503 was tautly dramatic.
When I reviewed the last installment in the Uchida Mozart series, I noted some acoustic problems related to the stage arrangement—specifically, the rotation of the piano 90 degrees from its usual position, which enables Uchida to face the musicians while simultaneously playing and conducting. The piano's reduced clarity proved a significant drawback in Thursday evening's performance of K. 451. Uchida's solo entrance in the Allegro assai was a sonic blur. In K. 503, on the other hand, the more equal partnership between soloist and ensemble proved an asset for different reasons in different contexts. The comparatively bulky orchestral sound in the opening Allegro maestoso highlighted the movement's scale, while in the Andante the democratic relationship between individual instruments emphasized the chamber-music intimacy of Mozart's writing.
Between the two Mozart concertos, Assistant Conductor Andrew Grams led a rhythmically solid version of Schoenberg's second Chamber Symphony. Here and there one could hear hints of untidiness: in the way the cellos were swamped by winds about twenty bars into the opening Adagio, for example, and the overly prominent bassoons in a few measures near the end of that same movement. Still, it was this work, started in 1906 and not finished until 1939, that Glenn Gould once referred to as a "disturbing skeleton in Schoenberg's musical closet." And when you take a skeleton out to dance, perhaps you ought to expect to hear the occasional creaking of joints, the clattering of bones.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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