Mostly Mozart in New York – Violin Concertos/Gidon Kremer (2)

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District – Adagio [arr. Kremer]
Symphony for Strings, Op.118a [arr. from String Quartet No.10 in A flat, Op.118] – Allegretto furioso
Violin Concerto in D, K218
Five Minutes in the Life of W. A. M.
Violin Concerto in A, K219 (Turkish)

Kremerata Baltica
Gidon Kremer (violin)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 7 August, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

This was the second of two programmes by Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra featuring the complete Mozart violin concertos.

The concert opened with two works by Shostakovich, whose presence on the programme seemed more an acknowledgement of his own centenary year than owing to any connection with Mozart. First came an arrangement (attributed to Kremer and the orchestra) of an Adagio from “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” which was played with lyrical delicacy. This was followed by an energetic and stirring performance of Rudolf Barshai’s transcription of the Allegretto furioso from String Quartet No.10. Both works were performed without a conductor.

Continuing his traversal of the five Mozart violin concertos, Kremer tackled the last two concertos (there are at least two that are spurious to Mozart’s name) in much the same style as the earlier three, with marked rhythmic and dynamic variations and a rather spare tone. Kremer’s conducting style consisted of little more than knee bends and slight nods of his head, but the players had no difficulty staying together.

Although all five concertos were composed in a year when Mozart was 19 years old, they reflect an amazingly rapid progression, with each concerto surpassing its predecessors in maturity and, ultimately, in prominence in the concert repertory. Perhaps because the fourth and fifth concertos are better known than the earlier concertos, Kremer’s stylistic approach at times felt jarring, but in the end these were interesting and enjoyable readings of both works that evoked the performance style of Mozart’s day without fully joining the period-performance movement.

A highlight was the finale of the D major concerto, which though scored as alternating between Andante grazioso and Allegro ma non troppo, was played with considerably more variation of tempo. Kremer’s light sound was particularly appealing in the double-stopped passages played in duet with the first-chair violin. The use of Eingänge at several places in the movement to anticipate the return of the main rondo theme created a light, early-music aura, and the cadenza preceding the theme’s final recurrence was short and stylish, as were the cadenzas in the preceding two movements.

After the interval, Kremer and the orchestra undertook Aleksander Raskatov’s Five Minutes in the Life of W. A. M. Like Schnittke’s Congratulatory Rondo performed at the preceding concert, Raskatov’s work uses thematic material in the style of Mozart, particularly for the solo violin, but presents it in a distinctly non-Mozartean manner. The composer uses wind-chimes to frame the piece and interlaces it with percussive effects, including col legno string-playing, whilst varying rhythms and dynamics in distinctly modern ways, and concluding with eerie harmonics in the orchestral violins, followed by the return of the wind-chimes.

The programme concluded with Mozart’s A major concerto, known as the ‘Turkish’ for the “alla turca” section of its finale, which Kremer and the orchestra played colourfully. Kremer’s light bow and his use of Robert D. Levin’s cadenzas gave the work an airy feeling quite different from the war-horse that it has become. Although Kremer took considerable liberties with tempos, particularly in the second movement, he was careful not to cross the line into outright eccentricity. The net effect was to bring a heartfelt romantic touch to the singing adagio line.

Kremer and the orchestra offered two encores by Astor Piazzolla. The first was a mesmerising performance of Oblivion, beautifully arranged for solo violin and strings, and the second was Fuga y Misterio, in an arrangement that was virtually a miniature three-movement xylophone concerto, with the solo part flamboyantly performed by Andrei Pushkarev, Kremerata Baltica’s percussionist.

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