This final and festive MM 2019 program – cleverly framing two playfully-spirited twentieth-century works with a pair of equally light-hearted compositions from the eighteenth-century – brimmed with good humor and joy.
The concert opened on a zippy note with an exuberant account of Haydn’s Overture in D, a brief and fragmentary piece belonging to a now-lost opera, but which the ever-economical composer circulated as a self-contained work and as part of Symphony 62. It also shows up as an alternate Finale in some editions of Symphony 53.
Next Steven Osborne delivered an articulate and electrifying rendition of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, a piece written as a nineteenth-birthday present for the composer’s son, Maxim. The rollicking outer movements bristled with wit and rhythmic vitality, and with wonderfully supportive accompaniment from Louis Langrée and the MMFO, the ravishingly beautiful, richly romantic central Andante was allowed to unfold with extraordinarily moving tenderness. Osborne offered an encore: a melting adaptation (his own) of Bill Evans’s arrangement of My Foolish Heart.
Following intermission, another Soviet-era work: Alfred Schnittke’s poly-stylistic Moz-Art à la Haydn, a highly animated pastiche based on a fragment by Mozart, scored for two (frequently dueling) violins and an ensemble of two groups of four violins, with two cellos and a double bass seated at the rear of the platform. The piece opened in nearly complete darkness – the only things visible being a barely spotlighted Langrée and the red Exit signs dotting the walls of the house – as pleasant-enough melody unfolded over more-unnerving material. When the lights went up, the conductor and musicians enthusiastically gave themselves over to Schnittke’s quirky music, as snippets of Mozart and Haydn emerged amid a continually unsettling texture from the mostly roving ensemble. At the end, the ten violinists left the stage one by one, leaving only the seated musicians, Langrée beating time as the lights dimmed again.
A spirited performance of the ‘Haffner’ Symphony concluded the evening, Langrée drawing crisp, buoyant playing.