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Clarinet Concerto - continual elation

Brandenburg Ensemble, Alexander Schneider, conductor and guest soloist Richard Stoltzman, Symphony Hall, March 29; Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, Hans Graf, conductor, Homero Francesch, soloist, Symphony Hall, March 31.

Mozart's final instrumental work, the Clarinet Concerto, K.622, was composed a few weeks before his death. It is not only arguably Mozart's finest work for a wind instrument; it perhaps defines the high-point of concerto writing of any time. It is a piece which dances in melancholy: One is simultaneously trapped in its tragedy and elated by its bubbling joy.

Mozart knew little joy at the time of the piece's composition. He was deeply in debt, and reduced to writing humiliating letters begging for money. Deserted by society and friends alike and lonely, he sought company from whoever would provide it and, so his wife Constanze was to allege, this meant moving in disrespectable circles.

Mozart was commissioned to secretly compose a Requiem for a Count who wanted to pass the work off as his own. His only other commissions towards his death were for dance music for fancy-dress balls, and for musical clocks and glass harmonicas. Commissions of consequence went to Mozart's inferiors.

He was unkempt and irritable; his outward manners were crude, but when Mozart sat down at the piano his manner would change as, calmed, he became lost in his music. As the Mozartean biographer, Hildesheimer, put it: "Although the tragic nature of his life is an essential component of our admiration for him, we repress the fact that we owe the purifying effect of his music to his objectifying mastery of this tragedy, its extreme and unique sublimation."

Richard Stoltzman is one of the few contemporary clarinetists worthy to lead us into the bitter-sweet revelations of one of Mozart's most miserable, but finest hours. Of Stoltzman's technique there could never be doubt. The clarinet is clearly an extension of his body: He can perform the most virtuosic of feats on it as easily as you or I can raise a hand. But, more significantly, the instrument is also a part of his soul. As we saw him become totally absorbed in his playing, we felt an indescribably serene happiness, colors of sorrow and joy melting into a continual state of elation.

The Brandenburg Ensemble began the first movement gracefully. The velvet textures of the orchestra were to provide a perfectly-balanced and supportive ambience for Stoltzman's solo. Characterized by precision and lightness of touch, the orchestra was also equal to Stoltzman's wit, drawing the occasional unselfconscious smile from the clarinetist during pauses in the solo part.

The second movement, the adagio, is the most profound in a work of fathomless depth. Stoltzman played with total clarity and complete fluency. The music came across simply and directly. But, it was also penetrating, opening to conjecture forbidden and unanswerable questions. The beautiful fluidity of his tone captured deep tragedy, and raised it to a state of Heavenly ecstacy.

The Rondo (allegro) provided an uplifting conclusion, as if one could reach higher than Heaven. Stoltzman's facility, his ability to make every note sing, sent the audience home humming and happy; happy in Mozart's music and oblivious to the material conditions of Mozart's death.

The Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg brought their home-grown freshness and sparkle to Boston. They began their Symphony Hall concert with Mozart's Divertimento in D, K. 136, giving it a performance as vibrant and free-flowing as it was charming.

Homero Francesch appeared to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. His approach was fiery, but his touch silky. The lengthy cadenza to the first movement had just a bit too much bravura, however, and, though Francesch played with phenomenal technical agility, there were other moments when one felt one was looking at Mozart from the outside, rather than from within. This was not, however, to detract from the enjoyment of the concluding Rondo: Allegro assai, however: Francesch's spirited attack and his close relationship with the orchestra made this into an exciting finale.

The orchestra saved its best performance of the evening for Mozart's Symphony No. 38, Haffner. The strings were remarkably smooth, winds sensitive. The adagio was done particularly beautifully, while the cohesion and power of the Orchestra made for an exhilerating finale.

Jonathan Richmond->