New World program illuminates Mozart’s music, familiar and non

By Lawrence Budmen

The New World Symphony’s retrospective programs devoted to works by Schubert and Beethoven have been highlights of recent seasons, and it was Mozart’s turn in the spotlight on Saturday night.

Utilizing two of the New World Center’s auxiliary balcony stages for chamber music performances as well as the main playing area, “A Mozart Journey” offered an exhilarating overview of the genius from Salzburg.

During the program’s first part, Michael Tilson Thomas chose to intermingle chamber scores between the movements of the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, a practice that was common in the era of Haydn and Mozart. Cynthia Roberts, a period-instrument specialist and faculty member at Juilliard, was guest concertmaster and her influence on the orchestra’s performance was keenly felt.

Playing without vibrato in the manner of early music ensembles, the strings’ sharp, crisp attack gave Mozart’s next-to-last symphony a visceral charge. Tilson Thomas conducted in a more romantic and expressive style, closer to conductors of an earlier era. The opening Molto allegro, taken at a leisurely pace, had considerable dramatic heft and the Andante was imbued with stately gravitas.

Tilson Thomas took a robust approach to the Menuetto and the finale surged with stormy ballast. Inner lines were clearly delineated, the wind and horn playing spot on and rhythmically alert. The performance skillfully balanced stylistic niceties with emotional weight and drive.

The orchestra played the program’s second part without a conductor. Roberts soloed in an autocratically phrased, melodically infusive reading of the violin Rondo in C Major. Clearly energized by Roberts’ stylistic insights, the orchestra’s supple blending of timbres was flawlessly executed. Alexander Kienle took the sonorous solo honors in the Rondo from the Horn Concerto No. 2, bringing superb accuracy to the instrument’s highest flights. Under Mike Lee’s hands, the Rondo in D Major for piano emerged with martial zest and eloquence, the light, tinkling sound of the fortepiano a total delight.

The concert’s final segment was devoted to Act 1 of Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaide. The work of a twenty-two year old composer, Zaide may not be top-drawer Mozart but the score comes close and may be seen as a sketch for the later Abduction from the Seraglio. Like the libretto of that opera, Zaide is a rescue play about enslaved Christian Europeans in a harem of the Ottoman Empire. Tilson Thomas was the witty narrator, handing over the podium to conducting fellow Joshua Gersen.

Mozart’s wonderfully inventive and decorative orchestral writing was given finely detailed advocacy. In the title role, Ying Fang emerged as a star in the making. Her exquisite lyric soprano soared in a finely spun rendition of the aria Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben and she blended felicitously with Paul Appleby in a lovely duet. Appleby, who already has Met credits, unfurled a strong lyric tenor with powerful high notes and a real sense of theater in his solo aria and spoken declamation. Timothy McDevitt’s rotund baritone rounded out the final trio,  alternately spirited and introspective in the manner of Mozart’s best operatic ensembles.

Among the chamber pieces, the vibratoless string playing was less effective in the Allegro from the String Quintet No. 5, the sound somewhat thin from the more distant balcony space. Marnie Hauschildt, a consistently strong keyboard artist, commanded the fortepiano in an elegantly shaped Allegretto from the Quintet in E-flat Major for piano and winds. The warm, full tone of Brad Whitfield’s clarinet and agile, precise articulation of Joseph Peter’s oboe shone impressively in excerpts from scores for wind instrument and strings.

The New World Symphony repeats “A Mozart Journey” 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. 305-673-3331;

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Sun Feb 17, 2013
at 12:13 pm
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