Symphony in C major, VB138
Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K.453
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Emanuel Ax (piano)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 19 August, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City
The Swedish Chamber Orchestra, an accomplished ensemble of 37 musicians, made an impressive debut at Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart” festival in this program led by Thomas Dausgaard. The concert opened with a symphony by Joseph Martin Kraus, a German-born contemporary of Mozart who made his career as a court composer in Sweden. The program closed with Beethoven’s jovial Fourth Symphony. Sandwiched in between was a magical performance of Mozart’s G major concerto by Emanuel Ax.
Joseph Martin Kraus’s lifetime (1756-1792) coincides with Mozart’s, but his Symphony in C suggests he has more in common with Haydn, whom he met in both Vienna and Esterházy, and who called him “one of the greatest geniuses I have met.” Kraus’s Symphony is a three-movement work that follows a fast-slow-fast sequence. As Haydn often did in his symphonies, Kraus begins this one with an attention-getting, slow introduction that engenders substantial suspense, and sets the stage for the inventive, prolonged and faster-paced complications that follow. After the intricacies of the first movement, the symphony closes with two brief, sketch-like movements: a rather curious Andante that seems to skip to a new idea and tempo every few bars, and a closing Allegro that displayed great vitality. Dausgaard led a lively, fresh performance of this rarely performed work.
Following the Kraus, Emanuel Ax delivered the highlight of the evening: a sublime performance of K453, including Mozart’s own cadenzas for the first two movements. Probing deeply within Mozart’s textures, Ax presented the concerto’s essential ideas with consummate clarity and displayed all the grace, radiance and polish that one expects of him. The orchestra, absorbing the intensity of the pianist’s inspiration, provided him with sensitive, attentive support, especially on the winds.
For the final offering, Dausgaard led a compelling and convincing performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. The smaller orchestral forces of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra revealed lean, transparent sonorities, and Dausgaard’s sensible, meticulously sculpted phrasing penetrated to the core of this buoyant music, as did the virtuoso performance on the clarinet. The violins displayed wonderfully rhythmic definition and good sound in the first movement, and the glorious echoes in the second movement were similarly well achieved. This was a vigorous, supple and completely satisfying performance. For an encore, there was a sparkling performance of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.5.