Mozart Birthday Celebration

Local Arts Reviews

Mozart Birthday Celebration

First Baptist Church, Jan. 25

A couple of signature elements were missing from this year's annual Mozart Birthday Celebration at First Baptist Church. Pianist and A. Mozart Fest founder and director Mary Robbins didn't perform, and Lucian Chimene didn't provide the usual commentary.

But fully present were some of Austin's best musicians playing with the high level of intensity and enthusiasm that this annual event always brings out. Over the years, the orchestra has gotten smaller and better, and on this Sunday afternoon, there were never more than 17 players – six violins and otherwise no more than two players per part. But with Mozart, less is more. With no loss of force in the sound, you heard every nuance, a luxury you miss with a bigger orchestra in a larger hall. This group should have a full season of its own.

The collegial aspect of this group showed up in the first notes of their collaboration in Mozart's Horn Concerto in E-Flat, K. 417 with horn player James Hale. Offering minimal cues to the orchestra, Hale was more a lively conversationalist than a monologist. When you're listening to musicians up close, you expect to hear the unintended noises that are the by-product of working the instruments, but you seldom noticed the lip struggle and valve clatter as Hale coaxed his sumptuous lines out of classical music's most temperamental machine.

Polish pianist Dariusz Pawlas brought together a remarkable balance of simplicity and virtuosic extravagance in two of Mozart's piano concertos. In the B-Flat Major Concerto, K. 595 (Mozart's last piano concerto), the players showed great poise and restraint, feeling that vanishingly brief pause in the first movement when the texture goes from one of simple melodies into the work's deeply somber folds. Pawlas' no-nonsense ingenuousness served him especially well in the last movement. The repeated melody of the rondo is disarmingly innocent, and if the pianist dresses it up too much it loses its simplicity. If he doesn't do something with it, however, the theme can wear out its welcome. Pawlas' understated approach made it possible to hear the little rhythmic tweaks and accents that freshened up the melody.

While it would seem like a slam dunk to end the concert with Mozart's last piano concerto, the Concerto in F-Major, K. 459, offers a more rousing and virtuosic finish. In it, Pawlas showed himself to be not just a pianist of great restraint but a virtuoso of the classical style. The ever-beautiful line was there, and Pawlas wove it deftly into the orchestral fabric with no loose threads. But the tempos were brisker than necessary, so the first and last movements at times lost the security and definition that marked the second movement and all of K. 595. The skipping main theme of the first movement showed a stressful breathlessness that made it not seem convincingly carefree, and sometimes Pawlas sloughed off the end of one phrase to dive into the next a little early, ambushing the phrase to keep pace. The risky tempos may have cost Pawlas some style points here and there, but their degree of difficulty served the music well and kept the musicians and the audience on the edges of their seats.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
Arts Review
Turandot
ALO's production puts the 'grand' in grand opera

Adam Roberts, April 20, 2012

Arts Review
Austin Symphony Orchestra With Bion Tsang, Cello
The cellist swashed and buckled his way through Dvorák like a great actor playing Cyrano

Robert Faires, April 6, 2012

More by Jerry Young
Arts Review
The Boulez Project
In concept, the Boulez Project was somewhat provocative, but in performance, it was carelessly assembled

March 4, 2005

Arts Review
Austin Symphony Orchestra With Peter Serkin
Despite not always fully engaging with soloist Peter Serkin, the Austin Symphony Orchestra was clear, tidy, and provided some sweeping music

Jan. 28, 2005

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mozart Birthday Celebration, First Baptist Church, A. Mozart Fest, Mary Robbins, Lucian Chimene, Horn Concerto in E-Flat, K. 417, James Hale, Dariusz Pawlas, B-Flat Major Concerto, K. 595, Concerto in F-Major, K. 459

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle