With the birthday anniversary of Mozart occurring last Thursday, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra offered a timely all-Mozart program Saturday evening in Slee Hall.
Of course, musicians from the BPO had continued their delightful, long-standing tradition of celebrating Mozart's birthday, with performances of his chamber works last Monday. Yet, it's nice to also have the opportunity to hear some of Mozart's masterpieces for full orchestra.
When the Overture to "Don Giovanni was first performed, Mozart remarked that "some of the notes fell under the desks, but the overture went remarkably well on the whole.
Under guest conductor Yong-yan Hu, who proved to be a very able Mozartean, none of the notes fell under the desk, and the entire concert went remarkably well. The Overture's initial tension built effectively, until finally released in the second part of this concise but powerful piece.
The Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat Major is Mozart's first mature work in the genre that he made his own, and may be considered as the apotheosis of the "gallant" style, best characterized as elegant, witty and sophisticated. The performance of pianist Stephen Manes very nicely emphasized these qualities, while not neglecting the symphonic character of this concerto.
The true dialogue between piano and orchestra that gives this work its strength was evident from the beginning of the Allegro. Beautifully articulated passage work on the keyboard was matched by well-shaped orchestral phrases. The tempo that Hu chose for the Adantino seemed at first a shade fast, with the sighing motive less then heartfelt.
The pace eventually slowed enough to draw the listener in more deeply, while the descending figures in the solo cadenza were played in an intensely focused manner. The instantaneous switch to the breakneck Rondo was seamless. Hu led a perfectly paced conversation between orchestra and soloist, who made the most of the very bright keyboard passages.
In the Symphony No. 41 in C Major, Hu again used generally fast tempos to good effect. The lively Allegro had a nice springiness, with the sudden diminuendos precisely played. The gently pleading Andante and the light-handed Menuetto featured beautifully clean wind playing.