Symphony in C
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Nelson Freire (piano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 20 August, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
The first half of this relatively brief Mostly Mozart concert in the ‘Stravinsky Too’ series was devoted to his neo-classical Symphony in C, a four-movement work completed in 1940 that, although neatly packaged in classical format, gives the impression of having been cobbled together. The first two movements were written in France and Switzerland, the last two in Massachusetts and Hollywood. Possibly as a result of such frequent relocation, the work reflects a variety of divergent moods.
The light and lively spirit of the opening movement gives way to aggressiveness during the development. Spurts of woodwind color lend a continental flavor, while strong shifting accents in the strings generate rhythmic imbalance to the lightheaded yet bemused principal theme. Louis Langrėe emphasized this sense of rhythmical insecurity by his forceful treatment of displaced accents. The second movement is an aria. The performance seemed a bit tentative at times, particularly in the recurring ensembles dominated by woodwinds. Although Langrėe gave a straight-laced performance, his treatment of some sections was devoid of the grazioso quality that should permeate this music. A vigorous scherzo is the only movement that is filled with Stravinsky’s penchant for frequent meter shifts. The central section is a passepied, a Baroque dance. In Langrėe’s vigorous and sometimes fierce reading, the character of grotesque circus music was suggested, in spite of the sometimes tenuous and restrained playing. The finale begins slowly with a bassoon chanting quietly against brass and builds to an outburst that introduces the main body of the movement. After an extended sequence of events the piece fades to a combination of C and G chords. Although Langrėe tried to enliven the movement with energetic motion, he didn’t succeed in bringing it fully to life.
After the interval Nelson Freire gave a captivating performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Freire has been an international performer for many decades. Concentrating on Classical and Romantic repertory, his approach is traditional and straightforward. He avoids affectation, excessive dynamics and other self-indulgences. His performance of the Beethoven was sublime. One sensed the confidence of a master as he deftly glided over the keys and caressed them ever so gently in the enchanting strains of the slow movement. He played Busoni’s cadenzas in the outer movements with dynamic thrust and intensity. In response to an enthusiastic reception, Freire offered a trio of encores, a sublime transcription by Sgambati of ‘The Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice and spirited performances of two pieces by fellow-Brazilian, Heitor Villa-Lobos.