John Frayne | A tribute to Mozart | Music
Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia da Camera were on the gold standard at their October 22 concert at the Tina Weedon Smith Recital Hall. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was at the center of the concert, with music also from Mozart’s friend, Josef Haydn, and a modern admirer of Mozart, the French composer Jacques Ibert.
The concert began with Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major. This great work takes its name, “Prague”, from Mozart’s close association with this capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Mozart’s masterly opera, “The Marriage of Figaro”, had received only a lukewarm reception in Vienna in May 1786. In Prague, in December 1786, this opera had been a huge success. Mozart was brought in to hear the Prague production, and as a thank you, he wrote the ‘Prague’ symphony, which was premiered in January 1787.
The first movement of this symphony opens with a solemn introduction, much like the music for the stone guest in Mozart’s opera ‘Don Giovanni’, written for Prague the following year. Hobson and the Sinfonia brought out the marvelous structural perfection of this movement. Their interpretation also underlined the softness mixed with severity of the slow movement and the dizzying brilliance of the final rondo. This symphony has no minuet movement.
The second work on the program was Josef Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante, written during Haydn’s very successful first visit to London in the early 1790s. It is fascinating to hear Mozart’s music collide with Haydn’s. It seems to me that where Mozart is more subtle, Haydn is more direct.
Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante differs from a concerto in that it was intended to show the skills of a group of performers rather than just one, in this case, a violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon. It should be noted that the violin part was written for the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who conducted Haydn’s visits to London, and so the violin part is particularly brilliant.
During this concert, the violin was played by Michael Barta, concertmaster of the Sinfonia da Camera and professor of violin at Southern Illinois University. The solo cellist was Amy Claire Catron, principal cellist of the Sinfonia as well as the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra. The oboe soloist was John Dee, professor of oboe at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and principal oboe of the Sinfonia, and the bassoon soloist was Henry Skolnick, who is active in the publishing business music as well as first bassoon with the Sinfonia. . These soloists of the Sinfonia joined in an energetic reading of this light and seductive score. Each soloist had their chance to shine, in solo moments or combined in multiple vocal passages. Their efforts were met with thunderous applause.
After the intermission, Ian Hobson performed and conducted a sensitive and nuanced rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488. This concerto begins rather modestly, but soon the rhythm picks up in an exciting first movement. The slow movement featured Hobson’s tender playing, paired with excellent work by J. David Harris on clarinet and Jonathan Keeble on flute. This concerto was composed only a few months before “The Marriage of Figaro”, and the end of the rondo proved that the opera was in the spirit of Mozart. Towards the end of the finale, a typical comic opera melody was introduced to join in the fun. Hobson and the Sinfonia were warmly applauded for their excellent play.
For dessert at this celebration of Mozart and friend, the concert ended with “Tribute to Mozart” by Jacque Ibert, written in 1956 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in 1756. Ibert wasted no time in tumbling into a procession of musical urchins, cheeky tunes, whiplash tuttis, trumpet fanfare and a very resounding “period” coda. It was a good choice to end a concert which was indeed a tribute to Mozart.
John Frayne hosts “Classics of the Phonograh” on Saturdays on WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at UI. His email is [email protected].