BWW Review: MAINLY MOZART at the Balboa Theatre
Each year Mainly Mozart brings concertmasters and principal players to San Diego from the major symphony orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dallas and elsewhere. They come for a month-long series that includes solo recitals, chamber music performances and orchestral concerts. The latter are performed by the 40 exceptional visiting musicians who comprise the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra. This year the Orchestra closed the month-long series with "three masterpieces in one go" as the personable and talented conductor and music director Michael Francis described them. They were Mozart's Symphony No. 38, the "Prague," his 20th piano concerto, and Beethoven's sixth symphony, the "Pastoral."
When Michael Francis succeeded founding music director and conductor David Atherton in 2015 he reemphasized the organization's name by planning a six-year chronological traversal of Mozart's music. The first-year featured the composer as prodigy. In this, the fourth season, Wolfgang has finally taken up residence in Vienna and is nearing full maturity as a composer, as Francis and the Festival Orchestra amply demonstrated with the composer's 38th symphony. It begins with a slow, Haydn-like adagio introduction that gives way to an allegro. The exceptional quality of orchestral sound was evident from the beginning. Unison strings produced sonorous warmth in the introduction, and Francis's crisp sprightly tempo for the allegro was realized with dancing lightness and precision. As might be expected, principles from the woodwind, brass and percussion sections of major orchestras delivered with matching effectiveness. The concluding movement, marked and played presto, was an exciting delight.
The "Prague" symphony shows the influence of Haydn. In turn, Conrad Tao's approach
to Mozart's 20th piano concerto emphasized Mozart's influence on Beethoven. The work was among Beethoven's favorites of Mozart's 27 piano concertos, and he wrote and performed his own cadenzas for the first and third movements. Tao thundered through them with evenly executed trills and runs. He's a marvelous pianist, performing with exquisite clarity at all tempos, and infectious energy and precision in the quicker ones. The audience gave a deserved standing ovation with three curtain calls.
Beethoven's "Pastoral" followed intermission, appropriately so given the influence Mozart had on its composer. Francis said the work is his personal favorite among Beethoven's nine. It showed in his attention to detail and the delighted look he seemed to have on his face every time he swayed enough on the podium for the audience to see it. The performance was the most pastoral "Pastoral" I've ever heard. Leaves rustled, birds twittered, streams bubbled, and peasants frolicked, though briefly interrupted by violent thunder and rain. Beethoven loved walking in the countryside around Vienna. The finale of his sixth symphony is a deeply felt and marvelous representation of the gentle peace and satisfaction which those walks must have brought him. I can't imagine a better realization of Beethoven's expression of how he felt than the one delivered by Francis and his all-star band.
There's much more to Mainly Mozart than its annual summer festival. Visit the Mainly Mozart website to learn more.
Michael Francis photo compliments Mainly Mozart.