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Wednesday, December 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Preu, Spokane Symphony explore Mozart’s range of emotions

By Travis Rivers Correspondent

Mozart rules! That was the Spokane Symphony’s message in a dramatic performance of an all-Mozart program Saturday night at The Fox.

Conductor Eckart Preu opened the concert with the overture to “Don Giovanni,” a work the conductor described as his personal favorite among Mozart’s operas. Preu’s deliberate pacing of the three powerful chords that open the overture allowed the subsequent drama to unfold with increasing tension. Overtures are often simple throwaways in a concert setting. Not this time.

The restlessness Mozart presents in the overture was clear in Saturday’s performance, even in the chattering repeated notes that reflect Giovanni’s mischief-making. And his arrogant laughter in the falling scale patterns as he tricks his enemies sets the scene for the opera’s building entanglements and Giovanni’s ultimate doom.

Drama of another kind came out in the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. The performance featured the orchestra’s concertmaster, Mateusz Wolski, and its principal violist, Nicholas Carper. In a double concerto a composer can explore friendly dialog or virtuosic competitiveness. Mozart does a bit of both. Wolski and Carper clearly enjoyed the contest of scale-playing and the question-and-answer dialog.

The contrast between soloists was made even clearer in the quality of sound their instruments produced. Wolski’s violin had an assertive, brilliant edge, while Carper’s viola had a suave, softer quality. 

While the fast outer movements seemed playful and humorous, the andante was an intense exchange like a soprano-tenor duet in one of Mozart’s operas. Wolkski and Carper displayed the movement’s tender lyricism and its underlying unease. For me, this slow movement was the centerpiece of the evening.

Wolski and Carper responded to a hearty standing ovation Saturday with Johan Halvorsen’s duet showpiece Passacaglia after Handel. This fanciful 19th-century elaboration proved great fun, with orchestra members enjoying it as much as the audience.

Preu might have been tempted to end this weekend’s concert with one of Mozart’s big, popular last three symphonies. He chose instead what the orchestra’s program notes referred to as “something of an orphan,” the symphony Mozart composed in a few days during a visit to the Austrian city of Linz. The printed program of the premiere called it “An entirely new Grand Symphony.”

An orphan it may have been, but a Grand Symphony it certainly was. Clearly it was written as a tribute to Haydn, with its imposing, slow introduction and instrumentation that included trumpets and timpani. Preu and the orchestra made it a joyous tribute, too, with playful accents and dynamic shifts.

The minuet was delightfully Haydnesque as its dancers seem to wear peasant boots rather than the court slippers usual in Mozart’s minuets.

The pungent sounds of oboes and bassoons played a special role in the fresh, good humor of the symphony. Oboists Keith Thomas and Sheila McNally and bassoonists Lynne Feller-Marshall and Luke Bakken played outstandingly.

Preu, his soloists, and the orchestra spent the evening showing why Mozart’s music is always a celebration.

This concert will be broadcast on KPBX Public Radio FM 91.1 tonight at 7 p.m.

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