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ISO opens with "common practice" music

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Pianist Shai Wosner
  • Pianist Shai Wosner

The ISO's filling the Circle to near capacity can have many causes.   One is to omit a Friday-Saturday concert pair and replace it with a Saturday single while doing a "runout" in place of Friday's -- something we're seeing more of since the ISO's 2012 lockout -- and applied to this weekend.    Another is to program repertoire attracting ticket buyers like a magnet. ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański did both this Saturday. 

With Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms presented in that order, the Beethoven Coriolanus Overture, Op. 62, was a last-minute replacement for Webern's neo-Modern Passacaglia, Op. 1, a work which would have better bookended the Passacaglia movement closing Brahms' Fourth Symphony, coming about one hour and forty-five minutes later.  But matching bookends is not necessarily the goal of programming concert music.

And the strongly dramatic Coriolanus is a better companion piece to the dramatic Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, which followed.  Opening with a minor-6th leap off the C-minor tonic (compare with the minor 6th leap off the D-minor tonic opening Brahms' First Piano Concerto; compare the final two unresolved chords ending Puccini's Madama Butterfly), Beethoven continues punctuating his chords with soft-note motivic responses, and a quiet ending.  In his first movement, Mozart in-turn punctuates his chords with full melodic responses -- also ending softly.

With his Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98, Brahms reached the height of his symphonic craft in his Finale, a set of successive variations on an eight-note theme that virtually explores all manner of musical-orchestral structure with no interruptions or bridge passages.  I.e. the eight-note ostinato is always there.

So much for the music; what about the performance?  Urbański easily lived up to his, by now, vaunted reputation as a conductor who can duplicate repertoire precision, excellent tempo choices, and well nuanced dynamic control--in all three works.  Though none reached that exalted status of  "memorable," (Urbański seems to require big show pieces to achieve that), the orchestra played everything with every bit of the aplomb one expects from our ensemble. 

So what about our Mozart pianist?  Shai Wosner, an Israeli residing In New York, though technically secure throughout and using the popular Beethoven-written cadenza for Mozart's first movement only (I did not recognize the third movement cadenza), his snappy pace tended to cover his scale, passage and octave work with perhaps some overpedaling, causing the loss of some of Mozart's winsome articulation. Wosner should have better captured each note, as a "fortepiano" from Mozart's day could only accomplish. Sept. 27; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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