The classical music world is big on composer milestones. Last year saw 100th anniversary celebrations for Debussy and Bernstein, and 2020 is already full of RSVPs for Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
A 262nd anniversary? When you're Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, each and every birthday is a musical anniversary worth celebrating.
Thus, the BPO’s annual tradition of a January concert devoted solely to Mozart debuted Jan. 26 in Kleinhans Music Hall. While one-composer concerts run the risk of musical monotony, the BPO’s “Mad About Mozart” program instead revealed Mozart at his most unpredictable. The overture to the relatively obscure "The Impresario" made for a lighthearted and pleasant curtain raiser.
In place of the expected Mozart piano concerto, the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for solo winds and orchestra that followed was an inspired choice of programming.
A sort of hybrid between concerto and chamber music, the Sinfonia showcased Mozart’s unmatched abilities to write for the woodwinds. The superb BPO soloists--Henry Ward on oboe, William Amsel on clarinet, Glenn Einschlag on bassoon, and Jacek Muzyk on French horn--all proved ideal Mozart interpreters, with their stunning tone, rhythmic precision, and effortless phrasing of melodic lines.
While they all shone as soloists, it was their musicality and stage presence as a quartet that impressed most, particularly in the spellbinding cadenza that concluded the opening movement. Here’s hoping the BPO lets more of its amazing musicians have similar turns in the spotlight.
After the genial pleasantries of the first half, the dark and dramatic Symphony no. 40 in G minor was the perfect conclusion. With BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducting from memory and favoring brisk tempos throughout (the Andante second movement was more of a jaunty stride than a moderate walk), the BPO responded with a performance infused with energy and urgency from start to finish.
Falletta wisely avoided indulging in any Romantic leanings from the podium, instead letting Mozart’s genius speak for itself with a straightforward, direct approach.
A few slight issues in the finale with ensemble imbalance, where the winds came dangerously close to overpowering the strings, did not detract from what was overall an assured, confident performance.
As Falletta approaches her 20th season with the BPO, obviously her outstanding work as an advocate of new and lesser-known music is a huge point of pride. The Mozart concert, however, was a wonderful reminder of this orchestra's mastery of the standard “meat and potatoes” repertoire as well. My calendar is already marked for the BPO Mozart Requiem in January 2020--what a way to celebrate 263 years.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"Mad About Mozart," Jan. 26 in Kleinhans Music Hall. Repeated at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27.