Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

The sensational young trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who has appeared most often hereabouts as a jazz player, walked away with the show at the Mostly Mozart Festival’s final program Friday in Fisher Hall. He played the Hummel concerto – usually thought of as being in E-flat, but, the program note informed us, originally written in the more difficult key of E, and played that way here – and won a mid-program standing ovation. (Mr. Marsalis has an unassuming, modest stage presence, but is showman enough to make his public wait between bows; nevertheless he was called back for several.)

The concerto is unremarkable music for the most part, but the playing was irresistible. Mr. Marsalis knows how to phrase like a singer. He played with an easy, mellow legato in the first movement. In Hummel’s era of virtuoso ornamentation, the plain lines were probably not meant to be left that way, but no matter; the tone was too lovely for complaint.

And in the finale there was enough virtuosity for three concertos. Impeccable scales, faster than one would have thought possible; rapid-fire repeated notes; delicate echoes; dazzling arpeggios – there was something for everybody. Near the end came a rising chromatic chain of trills such as to leave the sourest critic with a silly grin of delight on his face. Virtuosity isn’t everything, just like money can’t buy happiness. But either one, used with any astuteness, can guarantee a lot of fun, and Friday’s audience can’t often have had more of that than it did here.

Mr. Marsalis caught the Festival Orchestra rather off its guard. Concerto accompaniments usually don’t get the lion’s share of rehearsal time, but their finales usually don’t get played as fast as he played this one. The players tagged along gamely, but one could hardly resist a chuckle as the violinists struggled with semiquavers that seemed to cost the trumpeter no more effort than it costs you or me to tie our shoes. It was ragged, but that seemed all part of the fun. (In the normal order of things, a composer can expect much more fleetness from fiddles than from trumpets.)

End-of-festival fatigue may have had something to do with it too. The concluding ‘‘Haffner’‘ Symphony refused to resolve itself into the thing of lightness and grace that the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, seemed by his gestures to want. Towards the end of the slow movement, the first and second violins couldn’t quite stay together in a tricky lead-in; the same problem cropped up for all the strings before the penultimate reprise of the tune in the last movement.

Mozart wrote to his father that this should go ‘‘as fast as possible.’‘ One can’t of course be sure what he meant by ‘‘possible,’‘ but if he meant the briskest tempo at which clear string articulation and good ensemble remain possible, then for these players on this night, Mr. Tilson Thomas’s tempo was too fast.

There were balance problems in the first movement, too; the bane of the Mostly Mozart orchestral concerts this summer has been sturdy playing by good instrumentalists who don’t seem to be listening carefully to one another. (A conductor can’t fly in and make them do this in one or two rehearsals, though some have achieved more than others in that regard). But on the whole it was a hearty and satisfying ‘‘Haffner’‘ nevertheless, and a worthy conclusion to the season.

Before intermission, there were Mozart’s ‘‘Musical Joke,’‘ also heartily played and appreciated, and the ‘‘Jeunehomme’‘ piano concerto (K. 271). Menahem Pressler, best known these days as the pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, played with great spirit and an invigorating spot of left-hand- before-the-right now and then. But his passagework was often blurred by the pedal, and his upbeats (especially in the main motif of the first movement) seemed slapdash, collapsing rather than springing into their consequent downbeats. Like the orchestra’s, his performance would have gained much from more punctuation, more ‘‘white space’‘ between phrases and phrase-members.

by Will Crutchfield
Source: The New York Times

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