Pairing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Dmitri Shostakovich is not easy: DSCH works well enough with the ready orchestral brawn most modern Symphony Orchestras can summon at the drop of a hat. Or indeed cannot but muster. Mozart, in order to interest, needs something very different… something that adjectives like lightness and tip-toeiness only begin to describe. And really good Mozart is difficult as the Dickens.
Assuming a general difficulty in this paring, at least playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.18 up front and Shostakovich afterwards makes perfect sense. Perhaps some of the airiness, the intimacy of WAM will carry over into the 15th Symphony which is especially suited among the generally massive and bombastic symphonies of Shostakovich to be receiving a chamber-like and efficient, even delicate treatment.
Not that the Mozart of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under new, optimism-spreading music director Philippe Jordan and with Wiener Konzerthaus Honorary Member Elisabeth Leonskaja was all that light to begin with. The Allegro, though long on beauty, could have been plenty more “vivace”. The Andante was elegiac, direct, and unfazed, unsentimental, confident but also a bit sticky and slow and eventually in dire need of the injection of oxygen that the robustly vigorous Finale brought… or ought to have brought. Really good Mozart is difficult as the Dickens. A local heroine, Mme. Leonskaja was coaxed into giving an encore: A tempestuous, very modest run-through of Schubert’s Scherzo from the Gasteiner Sonata (D.850). Far too long and rather puzzling for its apparent lack of inevitability.
Shostakovich to the rescue: The toy-shop-or-torture-kit opening movement had vigor and all the individual voices presented themselves with determination and dexterity. Trumpet, Clarinet, Flute(s), Trombone were all terrific, as was the massive, buckle-your-seatbelts brass section in the opening movement. It’s not easy to keep the momentum going over the next two movements, especially not with an audience that had come to the Grosser Saal after a Monday (February 17th) at work, but if the middle movements came across as meandering, the finale was terrific again, down to the minutely worked tic-toc of the clock that counts down this Symphony’s lifetime… and in a way that of Shostakovich himself.