Mozart in the City

On Thursday I went to this concert in the SSO’s Mozart in the City series. On the menu was:

IBERT Hommage à Mozart
MOZART Concert-Rondo in D, K382
MOZART Piano Concerto in E flat, K271, Jeunehomme

This series is held at the earlier-than-usual hour of 7 pm at Angel Place City Recital Hall. The idea seems to be that everyone will be out again by about 8.15. In this case, it was closer to 8.30, probably because of a late start (the city was wet-weather gridlocked) and the need to reset the stage, including wheeling out the piano, wheeling it back, and wheeling it out again for the two concertante works.

I held off going to this series until this year, mainly out of a snobbish resistance to Mozart-kugel marketing. Despite the cut-down program, a tendency to economise on the selection of soloist and conductor, and the use of a smaller orchestra and small ensembles, the SSO still charges a healthy price for these concerts. $64 for 65 minutes of music (that was the B reserve price for me for the first of these concerts I went to back in April) seems pretty steep. So I was surprised and grudgingly happy for the SSO when I found how well patronized the series is.

Aside from the Mozart angle, I think there are two reasons for this.

The first is that in fact a lot of people like early and short concerts. If you work in the city you can go straight from work with a lesser struggle against work-day weariness and without the quandary of deciding to struggle home and then back again. For everyone on public transport, and especially for women and older people, there is a big difference between getting on a train (even worse, a bus) from the city at 8.30 and doing so at 10.30.

The second is Angel Place City Recital Hall itself. Apart from its meanly-proportioned foyers and not steeply enough raked stalls, it is an excellent venue where there are very few bad seats. The horse-shoe layout means that, even if you are up high, you are still close to the action, and the acoustics are excellent.  But once again, I think it is the logistic element which is most important. The Opera House may draw in the tourists (up to about 20% of every performance) but for Sydney residents it is much more convenient to get to Angel Place than to drag yourself out to Bennelong Point. And most people will save at least half an hour if they are going home by public transport afterwards. If you drive, you are not held to ransom by the incredibly expensive Opera House parking.

Back to the music.

Ibert’s Hommage à Mozart is essentially a short festive overture commissioned in 1956 for the Mozart bicentenary. Dene Olding, who is the musical director of the series and was the conductor for the evening foreshadowed in his pre-concert chat  that this would be “champagne music.”

I have the greatest admiration for Dene Olding as a violinist but less for his conducting prowess. Like much such “champagne music,” the élan of the performance is essential, but the the violins, which should have sparkled, were simply scrappy. Of course, that wasn’t all Olding’s fault, but it was disappointing.  This showed exactly why artists should not make such such speeches or such predictions. 

It was good to hear the Stravinsky Wind Octet, which comes from near the beginning of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period. I can’t say that I was really grabbed by it though, and I sensed some restiveness in the rest of the audience. Its cool objective style came through as just a bit too matter-of-fact.

The innovation which drew me to the concert on Thursday is that this year the SSO have ramped up the quality of their soloists in the series by including two of their higher-grade touring pianists. This time it was Gerhard Oppitz (here for their Beethoven Festival) and in September it will be Roger Muraro.

Oppitz brought the scores with him to the piano. I am always disappointed when this occurs.  It is not as if Oppitz needs to look at his fingers when he plays, but in my experience pianists always play better (provided they are not plagued by memory anxieties) if they don’t use the music.  They don’t necessarily play worse because they are using the music, but if they can do it without they are usually playing better.  In this case, I suspect Oppitz was playing these works as a “special request” from the SSO rather than as works drawn from his established repertoire.  He certainly didn’t use music for the Beethoven concerti and I would be most surprised if he were to do so for the four Beethoven sonatas which he is playing in recital on Monday.  After the best bits, I noticed Oppitz turning over many pages at once, which means he wasn’t using the music for those passages.

The orchestra, led by Olding from the first violin desk, was more comfortable in the Mozart than in the Ibert and the violin sound and ensemble were much improved. The Rondo is perhaps Mozart at the Amadeus end of his palette, but the Jeunehomme concerto has a wider range. I particularly liked the moment in the last movement when Mozart interrupts the busy finale with a something altogether more courtly and elegant. This was right up Oppitz’s street.

As for the convenience of an early finish, I went back to work to complete some submissions for court the next morning.

3 Responses to “Mozart in the City”

  1. Mitchell Says:

    Do you sleep… much?

  2. marcellous Says:

    I sleep late.

  3. Gerhard Oppitz - codetta « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] music critic) says, but I did like this final paragraph of her review of the Mostly Mozart concert which I attended last week. “Oppitz has many talents: his biography says that he speaks seven languages and is a […]

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