October 31, 2005 in City

‘Haffner’ highlights symphony’s tribute to Mozarts

Travis Rivers Correspondent

Spokane Symphony Conductor Eckart Preu opened the Symphony at The Met series Sunday with a concert of music by Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – father and son. The concert showed two things.

One: Wolfgang was, in case anyone needed to be reminded, one of the greatest creative geniuses of all time.

Two: It is not easy to be the father of a very great genius, particularly if you are both in the same field.

Preu programmed two of Leopold’s most famous pieces, his “Hunting” symphony and “The Peasants’ Wedding.” Both pieces produced their share of fun. A brace of barking dogs and random gunshots grace the first – marred, regrettably, by some very rough playing from the four French horns.

And a bagpiper (the excellent William Thomas), a chorus of whistles and more gunfire was heard at the country nuptials. Musically, though, both made thin soup. Only Leopold’s quiet, hesitant movement of the latter, depicting the reluctant bride, held anything memorable.

When Wolfgang wrote in the same vein in his short “Contretanz in C” – subtitled “The Battle” – the interesting instrumentation (without gunshots) and arresting turns of phrase and twists of harmony showed a master at work.

Maybe Papa Mozart got a bad rap, though. Leopold wrote a great deal of music, not all of it frivolous and some of it highly respected in his day. Someday it would be good to hear some of his more serious music.

Even when Wolfgang Mozart was still a teenager, he proved his mastery. Lynne Feller-Marshall’s performance of the 18-year-old’s “Bassoon Concerto” showed young Mozart exploring the nobility and lyricism the instrument could produce alongside flying scale passages and chattering repeated notes, technical hurdles Feller-Marshall surmounted with apparent ease.

Young Mozart challenged the soloist with melodic lines containing enormous leaps, and Feller-Marshall played those leaps with sure-footed balance in tone quality and precision of intonation that made them seem as natural as do-re-mi.

Preu and the orchestra produced an accompaniment that never overwhelmed the soloist yet showed how much musical interest Mozart gave to the orchestral parts even at this early stage of his career.

The slow movement was just taking a dramatic turn when someone’s cell phone jingled.

From this electronic wonder, even Mozart is not safe.

The crown of the afternoon was Wolfgang’s “Haffner” symphony, originally written as a serenade in honor of a Salzburg major’s inauguration, then dusted off and buffed up for one of the composer’s Vienna concerts.

It was a huge success then – and again Sunday.

The playing was some of the best Mozart I have heard in The Met since it opened – clear and lithe but energized with Mozart’s ever-present operatic drama, the sense that something important is about to happen.

And something important does happen with a surprise – big or small – in an unexpected turn in the harmony, or a jolt in the rhythm or, a melody that takes an unanticipated direction.

Preu honored the audience’s ovation with an encore of the opening movement of one of Mozart’s great hits, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.”

Earlier, the conductor told the audience, “If there is heaven on earth it is in playing and listening to Mozart.” He meant Wolfgang, of course.

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