Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mozart, Wagner and Beethoven

As part of the continuing Wolfie Mania for Mozart's 250th birthday, the Kansas City Symphony presented a concert last night featuring one of Mozart's final 6 symphonies, The "Linz" # 36. The concert also included a rare performance of the Wagner "Siegfried Idyll" and concluded with Beethoven's sunny Symphony # 4.

Young conductor James Gaffigan substituted for Klaus-Peter Seibel, a seasoned veteran and long time guest conductor of the KC Symphony at the last minute due to Seibel's wife's illness. Gaffigan, according to a conversation I had with Maestro Stern, is a conductor to watch as he has a promising career.

The Linz showed off the newly found confidence of the orchestra. Razor sharp precision and ensemble with the right blend of emotion served the Linz well. Gaffigan brought out the "landler" dance rhythms of the Minuet; I heard a pre-echo of Mahler in the movement. Gaffigan highlighted the energy bound in the notes of this work, one of Mozart's finest symphonic accomplishments.

As an aside, this work was written in about 5 days time. From Mozart's letters as printed in the program notes Mozart wrote: "When we arrived at the gates of Linz," Mozart reported to his father on October 31st "a servant was waiting there to conduct us to the palace of old Count Thun [father-in-law of one of Mozart's Viennese pupils], where we are still living. I can't tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, November 4th, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and since I haven't a single symphony with me, I am up to my ears writing a new one which must be finished by then." Thus a symphony was born.

Gaffigan unfortunately was lost in the "Siegfried Idyll". A slack, emotionless performance, devoid of any drama and contrast. Now this is not your father's Wagner with braying horns and charging warriors, but a more intimate chamber piece composed by Wagner for his wife Cosima's birthday in 1877. However, even the most chaste performances have some sense of drama, phrasing with tension and release. This was background music, and performed way too slowly. I went home and immediately played Guido Cantelli's wonderful 1953 performance.

Gaffigan was back in form with the Beethoven 4th. He seemed to be more comfortable with quicker, more technical music but was struggling to bring out the pathos and tension of slower tempos. Again the strings especially were right on target and the performance was a success.

May we hear Gaffigan again in a few years with some experience under his belt (he is 26)as I am sure there is a great talent emerging.

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