Friday, June 2, 2017

Maestro Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra host Russian pianist Denis Matsuev in a program of Haydn and Mozart

Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (photo:Marvin Hamlisch)
With Maestro Zubin Mehta retiring from his position in October 2019 as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra with which he has been involved for half a century, being present a concerts in which he directs the orchestra is be enjoyed at any opportunity. Such was the case when this writer attended a subscription concert of the IPO’s 81st season in the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, Tel Aviv, on May 27th 2017. Soloists were Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, violinist and IPO concertmaster David Radzynski, the IPO’s principal ‘cellist Emanuele Silvestri, IPO principal oboist Dudu Carmel and the IPO’s principal bassoonist Daniel Mazaki.

The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No.88 in G-major, a work with a strange history: Johann Peter Tost, a violinist in Haydn’s orchestra, took the scores of this and another symphony along with six string quartets to Paris in 1788, selling them (and a symphony of a second-rate composer, claiming it to be by Haydn) to a Parisian publisher by the name of Sieber. Haydn was indeed tricked, but the truth is that Haydn’s own musical skullduggery in Symphony No.88 constitutes trickery of a brilliant and good-natured kind, with such effects as an offbeat motive shifting to the downbeat, a melodic line disappearing into the texture to resurface unexpectedly and an accompanying idea that becomes a theme...and who would have expected trumpets and timpani to make their first appearance in the mostly sedate Largo movement?  As to Haydn’s Menuetto, its Trio, complete with drone, is unabashedly rustic. Mehta’s reading of the work breathes the Classical idiom of eloquence and balance, contrast and shape, as he  presents the richly varied agenda of the concluding rondo - Allegro con spirito -  its fabric a mix of folkish character, counterpoint and complex canon - with Haydnesque good cheer, good taste and clarity.
We then heard W.A.Mozart’s Concerto No.17 in G-major for piano and orchestra K.453 with guest artist pianist Denis Matsuev. As Mozart’s piano concertos were progressively finding more favour with the Viennese public, the composer wrote to his father that they “were written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why” - no great compliment to the listening public! Concerto No.17 in G-major has a number of different aspects to attract the listener’s awareness: Composed in 1784, it was one of the rare concertos not written for Mozart to perform. It was premiered the same year by his 19-year-old student Barbara Ployer. Matsuev’s performance was positive and full-bodied, highlighting Mozart’s melodic extravagance with brightness of tone and a rich play of textures, his rippling passagework and rhythmic zest imbued with both a sense of spontaneity and superb control. Arriving at the first movement cadenza, the artist opened with a touch of reticence, then to captivate the listener with the rich potpourri of Mozart’s musical ideas. In the Andante, summed up by Leonard Bernstein as “Mozart at the peak of his lyrical powers, combining serenity, melancholy and tragic intensity”, Matsuev takes time to pace its events, to shape the trills and articulate its many voices, to offer a personal, contemplative dimension to the cadenza. As to the last movement, a set of Rococo variations, the artist entertained the audience with the combination of drama and complexity performed with grace, wit and playfulness, its minor variation striking a serious note. Despite the concerto’s modest instrumentation, even in terms of the 18th century orchestra (it includes neither trumpets, drums nor clarinets) the IPO’s woodwind solos and horns gave poignant expression to the work’s beauty of orchestration.
Following the concerto, Denis Matsuev returned to the stage to perform two encores, the first a lively, elegant and touching performance of Sibelius’ Piece for Piano No.2, op.76. Playing the third movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7 (one of the composer’s War Sonatas) Matsuev had listeners perched on the edge of their chairs as he tossed off its demanding agenda - a demonic, intense and darkly chordal toccata - with pizzazz!
nvited to London in 1790, Haydn arrived there in 1791 and was immediately asked to compose a sinfonia concertante by the London impresario Johann Peter Saloman. Haydn chose to feature a solo group of oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello for the simple reason that this unusual grouping would highlight the strongest players in Saloman’s ensemble. Written within two weeks, the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major op.84 was an instant success, with the Morning Herald critic praising it as being “profound, airy, affecting and original”. A work in which all four roles bristle with virtuoso music, here was a splendid opportunity to hear the four IPO players in elegant, collegial  dialogue. In the fast outer movements, the solo quartet emerges, then to recede into the orchestral weave (the cadenza at the conclusion of the opening movement features all four), with the slow, more quiescent, pastel-coloured F-major movement giving the stage to the quartet more prominently. What a treat it was to follow both visually and audially as  Radzynski, Silvestri, Carmel and Masaki engaged in the work’s give and take, playing alone or entwined in the conversation of Haydn’s sophisticated contrapuntal discourse. Energetic and inventive, it was hard to imagine the Sinfonia Concertante, his only work in this Baroque-influenced genre, as written by the older Haydn. Once again, Zubin Mehta and the IPO’s Haydn was fresh, suave and vital.


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