Among his peers, Mozart is still the master

  • Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 9:12 PM

REVIEW: Christian Zacharias deftly leads, as conductor and pianist, in a program of music from the year 1784.

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Christian Zacharias

In a clever bit of programming, the SPCO is presenting concert music from 1784, setting Mozart's compositions in context with those of his contemporaries. It also highlights the talents of Artistic Partner Christian Zacharias, who conducts and solos.

In this year, Mozart had recently broken free from his stifling life in Salzburg (controlled professionally by his employer, the archbishop, and personally by his overbearing father), for the cosmopolitan world of Vienna. He may not yet have been at full flower as a composer, but his virtuosity as a soloist was at its peak.

Zacharias conducted Piano Concerto No. 16 in D from the keyboard, most successfully. In the Andante, Mozart sets the strings and winds in opposition, with the piano as mediator. The dialogue was played with chamber-music delicacy.

Mozart described this as one of two concertos that "make one sweat." Zacharias handled the difficulties with ease. He played the dancing Allegro di molto finale with nicely understated flamboyance, unfazed by the virtuosic piano flourishes, and never letting them take away from the virtuoso playing of the orchestra.

In the Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat, he proved an even abler collaborator. Mozart wrote a dazzling part for himself, but no less brilliant ones for the winds. Principal oboe Kathryn Greenbank shone particularly brightly.

Haydn's Symphony No. 80 in D Minor is rustic rather than elegant. Its moods move between turbulence and rollicking humor. Zacharias' reading was populist, but without losing the sense of classical grace and balance.

The concert opened with the Symphony in C Minor by Joseph Martin Kraus. Though German-born, he was known as "the Swedish Mozart" for his long sojourn at the court of Gustavus III (the setting for Verdi's opera "Un ballo in maschera"). This symphony, written after Kraus had moved to Vienna, was one that Haydn prized most highly.

Zacharias captured the first movement's dramatic thrust, and his deft hand mitigated some of the overly formal aspects of the Andante. But he could not keep the finale from seeming overly long.

In this survey, Mozart certainly stands out as the master. Zacharias returns next week for an all-Mozart program. 

William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.

  • ST. PAUL CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

    What: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Christian Zacharias, conductor and pianist.

    When and where: 8 p.m. Fri., Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Rd., Eden Prairie; 8 p.m. Sat., Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; 2 p.m. Sun., Benson Great Hall, 3900 Bethel Dr., Arden Hills.

    Tickets: $10-$40, 651-291-1144 or www.thespco.org.

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