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02 April 2006

Mozart's Birthday Bash

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Performers: Matthias Kirschnereit, piano; John DeMain conducting the Madison Symphony Orchestra

April 1, 2005

Want to know what the critics thought?

There's church music... and then there's Mozart's unfinished Great Mass in C minor (K.427). While I was bored by Morten Lauridsen's tedious Lux Aeterna, which we heard last week, this mass created serious "bring out your dead" vibes. I like to say that I most enjoy Mozart when he was serious, so any substantial chorus singing Mozart in a minor key is worth hearing live. The 140-person Madison Symphony Chorus's performance of the opening Kyrie (which is featured prominently in Amadeus, if you have seen the film) and the double chorus Qui tollis peccata mundi were especially impressive, full of haunting, deep, somber tones, and ringing harmonies that echoed all the way to my seat in the high nosebleeds.

The more coloratura solos were a little much for my taste, but the Domine Deus, a duet between soprano Jane Archibald and mezzo-soprano Jossie Pérez, more closely resembled an operatic number rather than a sacred composition. The harmonies were tight, aggressive and intricately interwoven. The same was true for the mass's finale, the solo quartet featuring Archibald, Perez, tenor Chrles Reid and baritone Kyle Ketelsen. Unfortunately, the two latter singers had only brief roles in the overall mass, making me wish for a more substantial sampling of their work, particularly Ketelsen's clear, throbbing bass.

One portion in particular, the soprano solo in Et incarnates, was striking because of its austerity. Between the orchestra and the chorus, there were probably 200 performers on stage, but for moments in Et incarnates, the only musicians hard at work were the oboist, the flautist, and the lead bassoonist, with Archibald's voice soaring above in furious flight. I liked the contrast between the large, powerful sound of the whole ensemble, as in during the opening Kyrie and the closing Osanna fugue, but this flash of delicate reduction served to highlight just how capable Mozart was at all manner of compositional complexity.

The evening's opening number, Mozart's brief, eight-minute Symphony No. 32 in G (K.318), was quick and lively with a strong operatic overture. For me, however, the highlight of the night was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C (K.467) with guest pianist Matthias Kirschnereit. A sample of the famous second movement Andante from this work can be found here.

The most energetic portion of this concerto, the opening Allegro, is filled with opportunities for a master pianist to demonstrate his skills. The movement features several cadenzas – extended solos – where Kirschnereit's hands positively flew across the keys with startling speed. I kept imagining his fingers getting tied together in knots like in old cartoons. But what was most fun about his performance was the obvious relish with which he approached this music. When not playing, Kirschnereit settled back on his bench to take in the spectacle of DeMain's conducting and the orchestra's masterful creation. He was head dancing! I love seeing people so completely in their element and so obviously enjoying the thrill of their accomplishment.

As for my accomplishment, I must say that I did rather well following these selections, none of which I had ever heard in its entirety. The concert booklet featured program notes about each work, and I was able to interpret the course of each piece as it occurred. I did not even need to use the complementary glossary! Thanks, Dr. Greenburg, and happy 250th birthday, Mozart.

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