New World stumbles with lifeless Mozart in chamber opener

By David Fleshler

The excellent musicians of the New World Symphony put on a subpar performance Sunday, as they left behind the grandeur of the full orchestra for three lighter works by Mozart.

 The program, entitled “Mozart Cubed,” consisted of two chamber works and the Symphony No. 38, known as the Prague,  led from the concertmaster’s chair by Todd Phillips, a member of the Orion String Quartet.

 In the chamber works that made up the first half of the program at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach, the young musicians played, for the most part, as if they wanted to run back to the anonymity of the symphony orchestra. With the exception of a couple of performers, the playing was timid, sluggish, too quiet for the hall and lacking in much feel for Mozart.

 In the Quartet No. 3 for flute, violin, viola and cello, flutist Clint Foreman rose to the challenges of the leading role thrust on him by Mozart (who supposedly hated the flute, but as a thoroughgoing professional, composed good music for it). Foreman’s playing was effortless, graceful and elegantly phrased throughout. But the other performers couldn’t match him, and the last movement Theme and Variations, which gave more prominent roles to the other instruments, lacked any energy or propulsive force.

 The Divertimento K. 522 is known as the Musical Joke for its odd notes and deliberately dull tunes. The musicians played this slight work accurately—although it’s hard to say, what with all the intentional wrong notes in the score. But they didn’t play assertively enough to bring it off.

Todd Phillips

Violinist Todd Phillips, who led the orchestra in the Mozart symphony, is one of many coaches brought in by the New World during the year. During the performance of the Prague symphony, he would start off the orchestra and then basically let it run on its own.

  This didn’t really work. Although the orchestra stayed together, balances were way off, with strings overpowering the woodwinds and an overassertive timpani thumping away. The playing was vigorous and accurate, but the performance lacked grace or much dynamic range, with a monotonous, unvarying forte prevailing through most of the first movement. Textures were thick in the Andante.

 The New World Symphony generally sounds great, but this experiment in conductorless Mozart didn’t come off.

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Sun Nov 1, 2009
at 11:13 pm
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