Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kansas City Symphony: Fisch Conducts Mozart, Mahler and Brahms

Israeli conductor/pianist Asher Fisch, long time music director at the Vienna Volksoper and Israeli Opera and soon Music Director of the West Australia SO, returned to Kansas City this weekend, May 17-19 with one of the more interesting and unusual concerts of the season. The concert opened with Mahler's gently lyrical “Blumine” once part of the first version of the Symphony # 1. The first half concluded with the Piano Concerto # 17 K453 by Mozart with Fisch as soloist and conductor. The program concluded with the Brahms Piano Quartet in G op 25 as orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg.

In “On the Horizon” I discussed the background of the Mahler and Schoenberg, noting that performances of these pieces are not exactly everyday occurrences.

Lucky for those in attendance, Fisch led a gentle, flowing, detailed and overall very successful performance. The mysterious opening for tremolo strings was pure atmosphere, barely at audible level, a texture and feeling more than just mere notes. This was a restrained “Blumine” as it should be, a pastoral interlude singing and a touch melancholy. Special kudos for principal trumpet Gary Schutza's lyrical and tonally beautiful which is the backbone of this fine little tone poem. The final moments of the work, with hushed strings in the highest register and the final quiet flourish of the harp was magical.

Fisch and the orchestra continued the concert with the alternately mercurial and dramatic Mozart Concerto # 17, written and premiered in 1784. The opening movement is typical of Mozart's gracefully lyric style. Fisch is an accomplished pianist with a singing tone and fine technique. The orchestra winds were in their usual fine form, deftly interjecting and commenting on the piano, especially in the charming and witty opening measures of the movement.

The middle andante, in contrast, is one of Mozart's more dramatic concerto movements. Fisch took the movement at a particularly brisk tempo which could of worked, but with his concentration divided between playing and conducting, it led to a some shaky moments and tentative entrances. Fisch was sensitive to the drama of the movement, accenting and highlighting the more dramatic passages. The Variations-Finale unfolded with the same charm and brisk tempo of the preceding movements.

What was missing was the feeling of unbridled melody and graceful expression that is a hallmark of a successful Mozart performance. Fisch and the orchestra were certainly not flat or dull, but the extra effort in keeping the orchestra and piano together, led to an overall restrained and mechanical feeling.

Fisch and the orchestra relished the Brahms Quartet, revealing the genius of Schoenberg's orchestration and Brahms' sense of form and order. A brisk performance, which is always a good thing in Brahms, Fisch and his forces still took time to luxuriate in the melodies that flowed from Brahms' fertile imagination. Fisch and the orchestra brought out all the Brahmsian character, drama and charm inherent in the Quartet. Fisch's attention to detail aided by Schoenberg's spot lit orchestrations illuminated how Brahms deftly crafted the first movement's melodic content from the opening declamatory motif. The Intermezzo and Trio, functioning as a scherzo, was well controlled yet infused with the right degree of moto perpetuo force. The grand Andante con Moto was swiftly flowing as an movement so marked should be. The concluding Rondo, marked “alla zingarese” was a total tour-de-force, Fisch and the orchestra pulling out all stops for a bravura finale. Even Schoenberg's xylophone and percussion touches seemed totally appropriate and part of the thick, rich texture instead of being a strange afterthought.

A thoughtful program of some off the beaten path works, rare and quite well done.

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