Symphonies of Wind Instruments [1947 version]
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Juho Pohjonen (piano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 16 August, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
During the summer months, Mostly Mozart concerts continue to be the most popular classical music series for residents and visitors to New York. Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments headed the program. Completed in 1920, only seven years after the premiere of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky used “symphonies” in the title not to suggest it was written in classical symphonic form, but rather to refer to the original Greek meaning of the word, “sounding together”. Dedicated to the memory of Debussy, and played here in the 1947 revision, its episodic construction contrasts woodwinds’ bright timbres with brasses’ darker hues in a brilliantly balanced structure garnished by rhythmically diverting use of frequently shifting meters. Englishman Jonathan Nott, Principal Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, made his first appearance at Mostly Mozart. Nott’s Bamberg Mahler 9 recording is particularly splendid and he led a taut, seamless and precise performance of the Stravinsky.
The highlight of the evening was a sensitive and virtually letter-perfect performance of the Mozart by the award-winning, in-demand Finn Juho Pohjonen. He offered an elegant reading of this refined concerto, understated in its confined dynamic range but virtually flawless in technique, the Adagio enjoying Pohjonen’s exquisite lightness of touch, the spirited finale a perfect foil.
Nott gave a rather forceful performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony that might be considered beyond its musical virtues. He seemed to be making the case that this symphony is anything but the ‘valley between to mountains’ by heightening the contrast between quiet moments and powerful outbursts in each movement. By so doing the style galante of the Adagio lost some of its grace, the clipped dotted rhythms sounding choppy, even forced. Yet Nott’s lively treatment of the opening movement had enough vim and vigor to satisfy. Fortissimo outbursts sounded fierce, especially when reinforced by pounding timpani. After an intense reading of the scherzo, the finale burst forth as if on fire. An underlying urgency fanned the flames, resulting in an exciting, almost driven performance that left the good-hearted simplicity of its Haydnesque character far behind.