In Uncategorized on 04/21/2017 at 11:06

Full disclosure: not only is this blogpost not about law or tax, but I have not written musical criticism for publication in more than fifty years. That occasion came during a newspaper strike in Our Fair City, where my review of Rudolph Firkusny’s New York recital in our college’s newspaper was read with interest by the performer himself, or so I was told. It was the only review published.

So I return.

Last night at Carnegie Hall I was very disappointed. The Orchestra of St Luke, a well-respected local group, promised all-Mozart. What I got was all-Norrington, the knighted (or rather, benighted) Sir Roger.

After informing us from the stage that to grow old was a license to stop behaving properly, he put this dictum to the test. Remarking that classical music in the eighteenth-century was entertainment and not “kulchah,” he noted that audiences applauded between movements, a thing since contemned.

It was rightly contemned, but even if it was not, turning to the audience after every movement and waving his hands to invite applause went beyond self-indulgence.

The music? Well, I sprang for a ticket to hear Mozart’s thirty-third symphony, his most underrated. Tradition says all we know about Mozart is that he was very exacting in point of expression, and could not get his musicians to play his allegros fast enough to please him.

Sir Roger went for speed. The most expressive forte in the first movement, for me the high point of the symphony, was tossed thoughtlessly away. The four basses were given a wholly undeserved prominence, so that growling was substituted for substance.

Not until well into the minuet, nearly at the trio, was there anything that might pass for expression.

I felt cheated even before Benjamin Grosvenor, touted as “the boy lord of the piano,” displayed massive technique and no understanding in the twentieth piano concerto. He certainly can play swiftly enough, and with a better conductor could do better. Surely in the second movement he showed himself capable of expression, albeit with a hesitancy that should only be found in one less skillful.  But I suggest he eschew nineteenth-century Romantic interpolations as cadenzas. These may impress audiences invited to applaud; they distracted me.

I will say the performance of the Linz symphony was best of the lot. There was more expression, and the speed was suited to the work. The finale was well-played, although repentance came too late to save the evening.

In playing Mozart, performers, whether old or young, are best advised not to “do first, ask forgiveness afterward.”

Sir Roger promised us a treat at the end, if we pleased him and remained.

I left.


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