Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony always starts out the season with a three-concert festival. This event not only kicks off the FWSO season, but it starts out the classical music season for the entire Metroplex. This year, like last year, the Classical Masters Festival features three composers that don’t lack for festivals featuring their music: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
For an orchestra that is usually at the forefront of playing the music of our time, and the only one that regularly has a composer-in-residence, this return to the music of the late 1790’s is a little disappointing. According to a survey done by the League of American Orchestras, Mozart and Beethoven are the top two most frequently programmed composers in the country. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, in an article written in 2011, puts them No. 2 and No. 3 (a close tie) behind Johann Sebastian Bach.
Of course, these composers made the list for a reason. Haydn really was the originator of much of what we call, for wont of a better term, Classical Music. Papa Haydn invented the symphony, the string quartet, the piano trio and so on. He was a mentor to Mozart and the teacher of Beethoven. All three were colleagues. Music history is more condensed than many people realize. Haydn was 18 when Bach died.
One thing this first concert of the festival pointed out is the difference between these three composers in how they worked. Haydn was an employee at the court and had to please his royal patron. There is a sense of fun and jocularity in much of his work. Mozart possessed an unending font of music that poured out in such magnificent quantities. Beethoven had to work and struggle with every note but the end result was profound, but he also showed Haydn’s influence with some musical levity when he felt he could get away with it.
Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya began with Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D minor. The composer’s late symphonies were written for his trip to London and, rather than being written to delight a royal employer, were written to impress a general audience in a concert hall. After the slow introduction, Harth-Bedoya—conducting without a baton—set a buoyantly fast pace for the first movement. The second movement showed lots of charm and elegance. The lovely duet between the concertmaster and principal second violinist would have been greatly enhanced if the second violins had been seated to the conductor’s right. Having the first violins on one side and the seconds on the other was standard in Haydn’s day (and right up to the 1900’s). The third movement gave principal oboist Jennifer Corning Lucio a chance to shine, and she certainly did. Harth-Bedoya took the finale at quite a clip. It appeared to be slightly faster than in rehearsal because it took some of the orchestra a while to adjust and lagged slightly behind.
An aside: The loud parts were way too loud for Haydn, but this appears to be endemic in performance these days. The use of the warmer, less instant, tone of rotary trumpets would have been a big help.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written. Listening to it, you cannot help but feel a profound sense of loss and what might have been. The composer died just a few months later at the age of 35. Principal clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi delivered a magnificent performance. Although Mozart’s original copy was lost and the concerto was published with the low notes transposed, sketches show that it was originally intended for the basset clarinet, which Luperi used. But whatever clarinet she was playing, her intonation, technique, musicianship and tone were flawless. She seemed to have some trouble with her reed (the curse of the instrument), constantly futzing with it; she even changed it out at one point. But none of this was audible, although other clarinetists might have heard the difference. It was a glorious and memorable performance.
The second half opened with Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio. It felt out of place in this program. Actually, it feels slightly out of place anywhere but in front of the opera. Some of the other overtures Beethoven wrote for his only opera make better concert pieces.
The program ended with the earliest of the works on the program, Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor. It is famous for its last movement. Haydn’s orchestra wanted to leave the court and go home for a break. Haydn wrote the last movement in a manner so that the instruments leave the stage, one by one, until only two violins remain. The FWSO did this in a cleverly. They started to leave, the flute first and, as the stage emptied and darkened, some of the players returned to the stage to ask those who remained to leave as well. Even Harth-Bedoya left before the music ended (with the help of a flashlight). The audience enjoyed the performance, laughing as the joke went on.
There were a few odd things about programming this work. It seems inappropriate for the first concert of the season (the pre-season actually). Also, since management and players are locked in a seemingly endless contract negation, was this a not-so-subtle hint to Fort Worth audiences that this wonderful orchestra might leave, one by one, for a more secure post. Luperi has already moved on.
» Our review of Concert 2 of this series
» Our review of Concert 3 of this series