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21.5.07

Mozart and Bruckner with the BSO

Leon FleisherThe Baltimore Symphony Orchestra brought this week's concert to the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday night. With them came a Baltimore favorite, pianist Leon Fleisher, whose legacy as a celebrated teacher at the Peabody Institute extends throughout the musical world. For years Fleisher made a name for himself playing only repertoire for the left hand, after losing control of his right hand due to focal dystonia. Since a few years ago, when he recovered from that problem, Fleisher has enjoyed an Indian summer as a two-handed performer, most recently reviewed by Ionarts in a Shriver Hall recital last spring. For these concerts, Fleisher returned to the same composer, Mozart, he had played in his last appearance with the BSO. This time, he performed across from another pianist, Katherine Jacobson (who happens to be Fleisher's wife), in W. A. Mozart's concerto for two pianos (F major, K. 242).

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Austrians' works showcase the power of harmony (Baltimore Sun, May 19)

Ronni Reich, BSO With Leon Fleisher And Katherine Jacobson (Washington Post, May 21)
This is as it should be, since Mozart conceived the piece for two sisters and their mother, originally playing three pianos, two with difficult parts for the older sibling and mother, and the third basic enough for the younger girl, who was just a beginner. When Mozart later revised the concerto for just two pianos, it was for himself to play with his gifted sister, Nannerl. It is appropriate that this concerto should remain a family affair. In the first movement, Mozart establishes the pattern he will use throughout the concerto, having the two pianos hand phrases back and forth in dialogue, often sounding like a single instrument because they are so closely matched. Fleisher and Jacobson did not quite come together in the opening Allegro, although guest conductor Günther Herbig weighted the strong parts to give a clear line to the work. It was in the middle movement, an exquisitely detailed Adagio, that all elements of this performance gelled. This concerto, composed in 1776, is a musical counterpart to the Rococo style -- decorative, gilded, florid, and sensuous -- and while this was not a superlative performance, due to minor infelicities, it pleased.

Günther HerbigJens has recently called Günther Herbig the "quintessential Kapellmeister," and indeed there is a certain reliability about his appearances with the BSO, most recently just this past March. This week's concert is a sequel of sorts, recreating the same formula from Herbig's very successful concert last year, which combined a Mozart horn concerto with Bruckner's 9th symphony. This time it was the Bruckner 7th, and one might hope that after these two installments, Herbig conducts the BSO in another Bruckner symphony each season. Alas, it is not to be, at least not next season, when the BSO will not play a single Bruckner symphony. With no score and podium between him and the BSO, the baton-wielding, patrician Herbig lovingly shaped the masses of Brucknerian harmony, what Jens has whimsically called "fluid architecture." With a gentle wag of a finger, Herbig often diluted the sound to the right level and drew an exultant, thunderous crescendo from the orchestra toward the end of the first movement.

The four Wagner tubas that Bruckner added to his orchestra, in honor of the composer he called "the Master," evoke Wagner's music in the Adagio. The sound in this performance was liquid and potent, especially in the end of the movement, which is a sort of funeral tribute to Wagner. The disputed cymbal crash was omitted from the end of the Adagio: while both sides of this editing controversy can be logically defended, the cymbal crash does stick out in a symphony that relies so little on percussion altogether. The third movement, which is marked Sehr schnell, seemed relaxed side and not that fast, while the fourth movement opened on the fast side of Bewegt, doch nicht schnell. This was a fine performance that held me spellbound, with excellent playing and Herbig's architectonic sense of structure. Jens, who is our resident Bruckner expert, has recommended the 7th symphony conducted by Günter Wand (on DVD), Karajan, Celibidache, and Philippe Herreweghe (yes, you read that correctly). You can listen online to portions of the fourth movement of the 7th symphony in this NPR piece about the Cleveland Symphony and Franz Welser-Möst.

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