In keeping with the Casual Classics motif, the crowd that packed the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox on Friday night was casual in their dress but thoroughly serious and attentive in their attitude toward the music. Their attention was rewarded generously by a reduced core of the Spokane Symphony ably abetted by the Spokane Symphony Chorale.
The substance of the concert derived from the work of three central European composers of the 18th century. The composers knew, or at least knew of, one another, and all wrote pieces which we categorize as symphonies, operas or concertos. Yet, Vaclav Pichl (1741-1805) and Josef Myslivecek (1737-1781), both natives of Bohemia and celebrated in their own time, are now familiar only to doctoral candidates, while the third, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is taken by many as certain proof of the existence of God.
Despite the differences in quality among the works on the program, the quality of musicianship Friday night was of unvarying excellence: stylish, expressive and lively. For this, much thanks is due to the orchestra’s music director, Eckart Preu. Not a phrase went unattended, nor a voicing unconsidered by the conductor, who also contributed lively commentary, illustrated by a Facebook page projected above the stage.
The concert was called “Mozart’s Facebook,” to show that he was one among many prominent musicians of his time who were connected by mutual admiration as well as by considerable borrowings from one another’s works.
Still, the program showed that Pichl’s and Myslivecek’s stars, twinkling and charming as they might have been, were dimmed almost to invisibility by the brilliance of Mozart’s sun.
Pichl’s Symphony in C major, “Calliope,” while well-crafted, is little more than a tissue of conventional gestures strung together with a high level of professional competence. Parts of Myslivecek’s Overture No. 2 in A major demonstrate a greater degree of individual utterance, especially in the last movement, which was delectably characterized by the violins.
The title and key signature of Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in C major are really all it has in common with the Pichl symphony. They simply breathe different air. The arrival of phrases that seem at once inevitable and totally surprising, the sense of continuous narrative that runs across whole movements, the inexhaustible inventiveness and joy in music’s power that came so naturally to Mozart, were distant, unreachable goals to his minor contemporaries.
In Mozart’s naughty choral canon, “Bona nox, bist a recha Ox,” and in his little-known but astonishing masterpiece, the “Trinity” Mass (written when Mozart was 17!), the Spokane Symphony Chorale helped raise the concert to a very high level indeed.
It is difficult for such a large ensemble not to overwhelm a chamber symphony, but, through superbly clear diction and carefully nuanced, sensitive phrasing, the chorale, under director Julian Gomez-Giraldo, remained perfectly in scale with the orchestra and with Preu’s essentially lyrical concept of the Mass. Still, when he opened the throttle for the conclusion of the “Agnus Dei,” there was plenty of power and agility in reserve, bringing the evening to its triumphant conclusion.