It was meant to be an evening of bubbly, joyful and happy music. On paper, it looked promising: Mozart Violin Concerto No.5, Gary Kulesha Sypmhony No.3, a lesser-known Rossini overture and Mozart Symphony 41. Why then, at the end of it, was Miss Mussel left with the feeling that she was a victim of the old bait and switch?
For the concerto, conductor Edwin Outwater chose not to reduce the string section, a wise choice considering the transparency of the piece. Mozart scored it for wind section lite, in this case a pair of horns and oboes, so the extra strings gave the winds the chance to play more than pianississimo. Keeping 4 basses, however, skewed the ear rather awkwardly to the bass line, much like the bass boost on teenager’s stereo: ideal for Dance Mix ’06, not so much for Mozart.
Stephen Sitarksi, the orchestra’s concertmaster, played with clear, bright tone but his interpretation was short on imagination in all but the cadenzas. In the first movement candenza, the themes appeared dressed as a Bach partita. For the main cadenza in the third movement, Sitarski dispensed with thematic material altogether and instead played an ornamented version of the Turkish Rondo from Mozart’s Piano Sonata K330. Principal horn Martin Limoges, and oboists James Mason and Faith Levene ably provided accompaniment on triangle, drum and tambourine respectively.
The bits between the cadenzas were not well served by the soloist. K219 is a top-drawer composition but even it could not survive flat dynamics and shapeless phrases. It is tempting to think that Mozart is so delicate as to need kid gloves but this is simply not the case. As evidenced by the glimmer of life that appeared during the Turkish section of the final Rondo, his compositions benefit from robust treatment.
Gary Kulesha’s Symphony No. 3 was a refreshing change from stereotypical contemporary compositions in that it didn’t give Miss Mussel the feeling that the Four Horsemen would charge the stage at any moment. The third movement, with its snakey, raga-esque theme was by far the strongest.
While perusing the program pre-concert, Miss Mussel was surprised to see five minutes of Rossini opening the second half. After hearing it, she still thought it an odd choice. Outwater announced that it was programmed to serves as a setup for Symphony 41 because Italian was Mozart’s favourite language. This is a technique Outwater used much more successfully in a previous concert but this time, a Rossini B side was just a waste of time.
For the final symphony, Outwater chose a breakneck pace for the opening movement, a bit of an eye-brow lifter considering the great pains he took in his from-the-podium to talk about the beauty of the score’s details and construction. Not surprisingly, phrase endings felt cramped and much of the detail was lost. By this point in the concert, Miss Mussel’s ears were tired of having to work so hard and she all but gave up hope that any sort of spine tingling would take place. Her one final hope, the last movement fugue, was summarily dashed by the fact that five cellos simply cannot hold their own in a 18.104.22.168.4 setup.
It gives Miss Mussel absolutely no pleasure to write this and she gave serious consideration to not publishing it at all. What tipped the scales was the necessity of bad to give context to the good. Empty superlatives are a rampant malignance in the PR world and perpetuating this doesn’t do anyone any favours. Despite this disappointment, Miss Mussel has heard good things from this band before and continues to live in hope that things will be better next time.