Der Freischütz – Overture
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Steven Osborne (piano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Fred Kirshnit
Reviewed: 7 August, 2015
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
In 1906 Felix Weingartner wrote of the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh that “it is the impression of strength that I give to this movement that has been mistaken for the impression of speed.” In recent years, the Symphony as a whole has become the focal point of the discussion of Beethoven tempo markings and no performance can be evaluated today without at least a mention of the pace of movements two and four. Bearing in mind that there is no right or wrong answer when printed markings and performance-history are at such loggerheads, Edward Gardner made his own case here and it was it a strong one.
But first, Gardner led a spirited account of Der Freischütz, with the exception of Rienzi the most exciting Overture in German opera. This reading was both colorful and dramatic, but what was exceptional was its delicacy, an interpretation that transformed the piece from the frightening to the sublime. This otherwise-spotless performance was marred only by the horns flubbing in their very first passage, a miscue which made this reviewer not only cringe but worry about the end of the first movement of the Beethoven to come.
Although many Mostly Mozart evenings contain nothing by Wolfgang Amadeus, this one presented the C-minor Piano Concerto in a measured and convincing rendition by Steven Osborne, who was able to transform the work – one of my least-favorite – from the prettified to the charming. Osborne was note-perfect and seamless in transitions and employed a cadenza that he wrote in collaboration with Paul Badura-Skoda. As I have great respect for the latter, it was disappointing to hear this compendium of arpeggiated material that seemed both wandering and superficial; however this performance as a whole was highly satisfactory.
Anyone who came especially to hear the Beethoven was not cheated. This was not a Karajan routine, the sorrow of the world writ large, nor was it unduly accelerated as the ‘period’-instrument orthodoxy demands. Rather this was a superb combination of power and sensitivity. The first movement was wonderful, horns redeeming themselves by executing those final high notes flawlessly (imagine how difficult they were to conjure with the ‘natural’ horns available in Beethoven’s day).
The analyzed-to-death Allegretto was presented forcefully with a brisk but not intrusively fast pace which may have left a bit of the emotional content behind, but more than made up for this by employing exceptional technique and a satisfying tutti sound.
The final two movements were positively thrilling but not overly showy. This “apotheosis of the dance” (Wagner) employed the Goldilocks principle to greatly satisfying effect. This was an extremely well-thought-out rendition and will stay in the memory for years to come.