BWW Review: MAINLY MOZART at The Balboa Theater
Every year since 1989 Mainly Mozart has been bringing many of the best orchestra musicians in the country to San Diego to perform a month-long series of concerts ranging from solo recitals to orchestral. 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 Mozart as prodigy. This year, the third, Mozart is a "rebel" breaking ranks with the music establishment and the control of his father Leopold.
As a concept, I can't argue with the clever choice of composer Jean-Féry Rebel's 1737 ballet Les Élémens to open the season, and not just because of the composer's name. The work announces itself with a rebellious dissonant 12-note chord, perhaps suggested to Jean-Féry when he time-traveled to the late 20th Century to listen to György Ligeti's Atmosphères. Unfortunately, Les Élémens isn't performed very often because, beyond that startling first chord and a lively well-orchestrated finale, it is average Baroque Era fare, even when woodwinds and percussion frolic and the entire orchestra plays with style and precision, as it did on this night at the Balboa Theater.
Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 13 is quite a different story. It's one of three he wrote when 27 for his own performances in Vienna when he was maturing rapidly into a style of his own. The 13th would probably be programmed more often and called a great piano concerto in the Classical style If he hadn't written 27 piano concertos, some even more emotionally and technically marvelous. Solo pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, a frequent and welcome Mainly Mozart performer, gave an idiomatic performance with sparkling, evenly executed runs and trills and exquisite clarity at all tempos.
Following intermission, Francis set a fast tempo for Mozart's overture to the
Abduction from the Seraglio. Mozart, with a salesman's recognition of Europe's craze for Turkish music in the late 18th century, included a drum, triangle and cymbals in his orchestration. The performance was an enjoyable romp and a perfect setup for Beethoven, the rebel whose second symphony concluded the concert. It was performed with compelling drive, effective dynamic contrasts, and wonderfully clear section balances. But what else would you expect from an enthusiastic young conductor leading a band that includes 15 concert masters competing for first chair?
The Mainly Mozart festival continues through June 24. Visit the Mainly Mozart website for more information.
Orchestra photo Ron Bierman, others courtesy Mainly Mozart.