This review appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of January 21, 1998.
Despite best efforts, Friday's ``Marvelous Mozart'' program by the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus proved one of the season's least satisfying.
Too much effort marred the music making. Marvelous Mozart turned into Muscular Mozart, losing both the transparency and the poignancy that can pierce the heart.
The evening began promisingly enough. Conductor David Lockington found a brightness of spirit and deft pace in the orchestral opening of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488.
Soloist Brian Ganz responded in kind with gracefully finished phrases and filigreed fingerwork.
His interaction with the orchestra resembled chamber music, particularly with the woodwinds in the first movement's development.
But as the concerto went on Ganz's performance began to seem overly inflected. Every gesture became so calculated, every gradation so managed that the music lost its life. Mozart requires exquisite control and, at the same time, an openness, almost a surrender. The challenge lies in creating a spontaneous, or seemingly spontaneous response that will allow his thoughts full play.
Ganz never gave the music room to breathe. He also skipped past Mozart's sudden darker dips, especially in the final movement. Without those flickering shadows the lightness had less shape and the music less emotional charge.
The second half's performance of the Mozart ``Requiem'' held many virtues but did not rise to a sum as great as its parts. The NMSO Chorus was in strong form, its balance excellent, its singing energetic and dedicated. The opening ``Introitus'' and ``Kyrie'' had a pointed, deliberate force, effective though with a touch of the ponderousness and overexertion that seemed to pervade the evening.
The Chorus' singing remained consistently solid. Their ``Rex tremendae'' (King of awesome majesty) contained both power and a nicely contrasted gentleness for the closing ``salva me'' (save me). They also found an appropriate urgency for the opening section of the ``Offertorium.''
The same virtue did not extend to the team of soloists. They were a lackluster group, apart from bass Stephen Morscheck, who brought genuine presence and feeling to his part.
Inexcusably, the replacement mezzo-soprano, not Kathleen Clawson as indicated in the program*, was not recognized either in the program or in Lockington's opening remarks. Soprano Leslie Umphrey had a bad night, missing a cue, faltering in her final solo, and, more importantly, never contributing that angelic soar the music needs.
The orchestra, like everybody else on this evening, did not deliver as fully as they have on other occasions. The Piano Concerto gave the woodwinds an opportunity to refine their blend and display expressive solos, an opportunity not well exploited. Too often the blend was uneven, the attack less than precise. The solos were adequate but, for the most part, less convincing than usual.
Lockington generally kept the evening under control, although even his usually firm rhythmic grip occasionally faltered as in the closing of the ``Confutatis'' section.
It is possible that the concert came together better Saturday night, which sometimes happens after an off performance. It is also possible that the program simply reflected the unpredictabilities that are bound to crop up as the NMSO matures. Human growth is never a straightforward process.
Note: The mezzo-soprano was Janice Felty, substituting for Kathleen Clawson who was recovering from childbirth. The tenor soloist was Richard Crawley.---JS