Mostly Mozart in New York – Violin Concertos/Gidon Kremer (1)

Congratulatory Rondo
Violin Concerto in D, K211
Violin Concerto in B flat, K207
Violin Concerto in G, K216
Drowning by Numbers – Trysting Fields
Serenata notturna in D, K239

Kremerata Baltica
Gidon Kremer (violin)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 6 August, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Gidon Kremer led his Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra, comprised of young musicians from the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in the first of two Mostly Mozart Festival programmes featuring the complete Mozart violin concertos. This programme included the first three concertos as well as Mozart’s Serenata notturna and two twentieth-century works. (This year’s Mostly Mozart Festival has programmed many modern compositions chosen, in the words of its artistic and music directors, “to affirm the vitality of Mozart in the creative life of our own time.”)

Kremer performed the Mozart concertos in his distinctive style, producing a lean sound and taking considerable liberties with dynamics, rhythm and tempos. His approach evoked the baroque precursors of Mozart’s music and captured the spirit of Mozart the teen-aged violinist showing off his virtuosity in the performance style of his day. Kremer’s playing contrasted sharply with the denser sound and more romantic phrasing that typified most performances of these concertos in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including by his own teacher and mentor, David Oistrakh. Kremer played cadenzas and Eingänge – short ornamental solo passages often leading into recurrences of a rondo theme – by Robert D. Levin that were more compatible with his approach to the concertos than the stylistically more romantic cadenzas composed by such violin virtuosos such as Joachim and Ysaÿe.

Kremer’s approach was at its most effective in the First Concerto, which is rich in thematic ideas (though short on their development), and in which the solo violin nearly always stands out from the orchestra as it navigates Mozart’s rapid and intricate passagework. This concerto lies closest in spirit to its baroque roots, making the evocations of Bach in Levin’s cadenzas quite appropriate. In the Second and Third concertos, however, Kremer’s stop-and-go rhythmic accents and sudden dynamic shifts were occasionally too jarring, and the Levin cadenzas were somewhat less effective. Notwithstanding these cavils, the brilliant Third Concerto still stood out from its two less-mature predecessors, and Kremer’s performance was quite captivating.

The two twentieth-century works on the programme have somewhat different connections to Mozart. Alfred Schnittke’s Congratulatory Rondo, composed in 1974 to honour Rostislav Dubinsky, first violinist of the Borodin Quartet, evokes the Mozartean style but introduces anachronistic harmonies and tonal ambiguities. The accompaniment to Kremer’s solo violin was orchestrated by Andrei Pushkarev, Kremerata Baltica’s percussionist.

Michael Nyman’s ‘Trysting Fields’, an excerpt from his 1988 work Drowning by Numbers, quotes Mozart directly, but in a way that leaves it sounding almost nothing like the music of his era. Nyman lifted accented appoggiaturas from the solo violin and viola parts (here played by Kremer and violist Daniil Grishin) in the Andante of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante (K364) literally and in sequence (but omitting all of the material in between), and strung them together with repetitions in his minimalist style. The result is music at once hauntingly familiar, yet unsettling throughout, since its construction made no provision for any harmonic resolution and its sudden ending further exaggerated this tonal discomfort. Both the Schnittke and Nyman works were well-played and enjoyable but are hardly candidates for recognition as classics.

The final work on the programme was Mozart’s Serenata notturna, which is among Mozart’s lighter works and was performed here in an even lighter vein. The concertino quartet consisted of Kremer and Džeraldas Bidva (violins), Ūla Ulijona (viola) and Danielis Rubinas (double bass). The first two movements were played straight, but in the concluding rondo Kremer replaced Mozart’s interpolation of popular material with a series of zany interludes, including a jazzy double bass solo and an extended timpani solo, giving the work the feel of a joke encore — a genre with which Kremer and his entourage have long been infatuated.

Indeed, the group promptly offered such an encore, Teddy Bor’s Eine Kleine Bricht Moonlicht Nicht Musik, which consisted of excerpts from the opening Allegro from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik intertwined with Scottish themes including “Scotland the Brave”, “Loch Lomond” and “Auld Lang Syne”. The concert concluded with Kremer’s rendition of Pushkarev’s dreamy arrangement of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”.

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