Orchestre des pays de Savoie
Conductor: Nicolas Chalvin
Jean-Francois Zygel: Piano
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A Major (First movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik (First movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-Flat Major (Second movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478 (First movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (First movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Musical Joke, K. 522 (Fourth movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major (Second movement)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (Fourth movement)
After Alexandre Tharaud’s terrific piano recital in Dieulefit on Saturday night, I happily took Sunday off from supporting cultural institutions, although anybody fortunate enough to have become acquainted with the homemade ice-creams of Dieulefit’s chocolatier extraordinaire Jean Da may argued that they are total works of art, and they would not be wrong. They are certainly one of the major incentives that keep me coming back to Dieulefit, and they certainly made my Sunday.
But then some live music still had to be heard, so on Monday afternoon, my mom, our friend Jacqueline and I took off to the forest of Saoû, which is located, logically enough, right outside the lovely village of Saoû, for the final, all-Mozart concert of the annual Saoû chante Mozart (Saoû sings Mozart) festival, featuring another French multi-talented pianist in Jean-Francois Zygel, on what promised to be an absolutely gorgeous summer evening in the woods starting at… 7 PM!
At least that’s what the program promised, not out of consideration for all the sleep I had been missing for various, personally uncontrollable, reasons, mind you, but rather, more prosaically, because of the lack of lighting. And if it had sounded almost too good to be true, it turned out that it actually was: While the seating area under the glamorous canopy of sky-scraping trees was filled to capacity well before 7 PM, the concert actually started at 7:30 PM due to late-comers whose presence was apparently indispensable, and then the unavoidable rambling speeches by various officials. And then, the music finally began.
As soon as the engaging notes of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 starting filling our bucolic setting, I decided to stop bitching about wasted time and to start embracing our evening with the Viennese master, which was really no that tall of an order as this first movement was predictably light, graceful and vivacious… but standing by itself. As a rule I resent when just one movement of a composition is played because that’s obviously not the way they are supposed to be heard, and I did feel an inevitable ting of frustration when the orchestra did not go on, but then I remembered how many months I had just spent without live music, and decided to count my blessings instead.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 may be fairly well-known, but the exquisite little gem that is Eine kleine Nachtmusik is downright world-famous, although for some reason I’ve never heard it performed frequently during concerts. I was therefore ecstatically happy to get another chance to enjoy it, even if, again, only the first movement was on the program. Considering the frisson of excitement that went through the audience as the Mannheim rocket theme started its ascension, I knew that I was not alone.
As an additional treat, once the movement over, Jean-Francois Zygel treated us to his own version, which was as inspired and entertaining as one could have expected from an inquisitive musician and natural communicator like him. The man even managed to gamely play along the singing of a nearby bird that would not shut up.
Apparently, Mozart himself considered his Quintet for Piano and Winds “the best thing I have written in my life” at the time of its release, and many music lovers concur. I am not a big fan of wind instruments in general, but I did remain in awe of the imaginative writing, the delicately nonchalant mood, and the perfect balance among all the parties during the second movement we heard on Monday evening.
Right after the winds came the strings with the first movement of his Piano Quartet No. 1, incidentally a milestone in the chamber music repertoire as it is considered to be the first bona fide piano quartet ever composed, even if it was just labelled “difficult music” at the time. On Monday evening, the four musicians proved that no matter how difficult the score was, they could handle it. Not one to miss the party, Zygler did his own solo improvision on it once the quartet was over, and brilliantly too.
Back to Mozart’s greatest hits, Zygler pointed out that the famed motif of his Symphony No. 40 has been one of the most downloaded classical music ringtones ever. Come to think of it though, it is not that surprising that those stubbornly recurring three notes, equally inviting and mysterious, turned into a ubiquitous earworm. And their power was just made plain obvious when Zygler performed his own take of it, starting by plucking away at the piano cords, before the orchestra eventually took over and delightfully performed the infectious original.
Mozart reputedly loved nothing more than a good joke, and he put this trait of his to good use with his Musical Joke, never mind that the English title does not reflect well the original German Ein musikalischer Spaß, as even my currently feeble German skills can confirm that “Spaß” means “fun” and not “joke”. And sure enough, as we were listening to the fourth movement of it, we could hear him poke clever fun at his less talented colleagues with excessive repetitions, rhythmic imbalance, general clumsiness and a totally out-of-control ending that even included a bit of polytonality because, why not?
Beside being an unusually talented composer, Mozart was also a gifted piano man and wrote many stunning pieces for the instrument, which in turn helped increase the popularity of the piano concerto. His most beloved is probably his Piano Concerto No. 23, whose second movement contains some of the most sublime music ever written, and not just by him, and thus gives it an indisputable spot among his greatest hits. Both versions we heard on Monday night, by Zygler solo and then with the orchestra, were ingeniously complementary.
To conclude our Mozartian feast, and this year's festival, Zygler had selected the last movement of the Symphony No. 40 because of the comprehensive recap of Mozart’s œuvre it represents, including the fading Baroque genre, the then-current galant and classical styles, and the looming Romanticism trend. The orchestra acquitted itself in this last task of the evening with plenty of verve and warmth under the baton of Nicolas Chalvin.
Maybe were they all a bit verklempt too as it was the maestro’s last performance in a symphonic concert as the Orchestre des pays de Savoie’s musical director, an occasion that Zygler simply had to mark with one last, beautifully heart-felt, improvisation as daylight was finally slowly fading away.