Conductor: Nicholas McGegan
Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
Beethoven: Piano Concerto in C Major, op. 15 - Robert Levin
Improvisations in the Style of Beethoven - Robert Levin
Mozart: Symphony No 41 in C Major, K. 551, "Jupiter"
Snow? What snow? As the big bad storm everybody was bracing themselves for was courteous enough to spare Washington, life went on as usual yesterday. So it was on clear roads that my friend Deborah and I made our way to Strathmore for yet another concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted this time by Nicholas McGegan, a name that has been long linked to the Philharmonica Baroque Orchestra (PBO) of San Francisco. Well-established Mozart expert and contemporary music supporter Robert Levin was going to be the soloist for Beethoven's first piano concerto as well as some cool-sounding improvisations. To stay in a Viennese state of mind, Mozart was also going to be present with the delicious overture to The Marriage of Figaro and the majestic Jupiter.
One cannot imagine a better way to get the evening going than by kicking it off with the high-spirited perfection that is Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Smartly recapitulating characters and plot line, it vivaciously prepares the audience for the brilliant comedy of manners that is to follow. The BSO plunged right into it, highlighting the finesse and fun of a delightful work that could easily stand on its own.
Although Mozart's influence is clearly palpable in Beethoven's piano concerto No 1, it also contains elements that were slowly but surely ushering the more opulent Romantic wave. The speedy first movement was probably written to allow Beethoven to flaunt his extraordinary skills at the piano while the second one is a melancholic rêverie that delicately unfolds. It was actually so dream-like that the two men sitting on both sides of my seat managed to promptly fall asleep (No snoring involved, thank goodness!), barely disturbed by the robust, perky finale. Young but already much in demand, Robert Levin got plenty of opportunities to display his considerable talent while playfully enjoying a good chemistry with a very comfortable orchestra.
Before the Beethoven concerto, our soloist had asked able and willing audience members to provide him with a couple of Beethoven-style bars via the ushers during the intermission so he could then pick a few and let his creative juices freely flow. And he did! After selecting four samples, he started working on them right away and the result was a full-blown, mesmerizing tour de force.
After the delightful treat, it was back to business as usual with Mozart and his last symphony. Although the name "Jupiter" was later attributed to it by London impresario Peter Salomon for marketing purposes, it is hard to think of a more appropriate one. The stupefying breadth and all-around harmony of the work from the authoritative opening to the truly grand finale magisterially prove the incredible artistic maturity he had reached in his mid-thirties and what the world has been missing since his ridiculously ill-timed death. True to his alleged opinion that music should never be painful to the ear, his 41th symphony bristles with his trademark purity of sound while showing a surprising intensity as if he was attempting to bridge the gap between his own refined classicism and Beethoven's sense of struggle and urgency. So irresistibly attractive that anybody is instantly hooked and complex enough to keep us coming back for more, it is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Having a first-class ensemble such as the BSO bring it to life one more time was yet another proof that one can never get too much of a good thing. We didn't, but we sure got our fill of it.