Last night's inaugural all-Mozart "Summerfest" concert featured Maestro David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the height of their respective powers, with the composer and the audience the clear beneficiaries.
Zinman's view of Mozart is similar in certain respects to many of his contemporaries. He eschews the romanticized approach of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in favor of a lean orchestral sound, fleet tempos and crisp attacks. What sets Zinman apart is that he executes this approach with an enthusiasm and musicality that few today can equal.
The program's opening work, Mozart's Symphony No. 33, received as fine a performance as this listener has ever heard. The reduced number of strings served to highlight Mozart's delightfully piquant woodwind and brass sonorities. Zinman's love for this work, visually apparent in his exuberant podium manner, was, from a musical perspective, more importantly reflected in his seamless, elegant phrasing.
Of course, all of Zinman's profound thoughts on Mozart would go for naught without a top-rank orchestra capable of accurately communicating his intentions. The quality of the BSO's execution was superb, nowhere more so than in the finale, taken at a dangerously fast clip by Maestro Zinman.
Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 proved a contrast in certain respects, not all for the better. Pianist Barry Douglas' playing in the work's faster sections was technically proficient, but the phrasing often seemed more dutiful than inspired. Conversely, the work's slower and more reflective moments were handled with an admirable sensitivity, thereby emphasizing the pathos that invades what superficially appears to be a sunny, optimistic work. The accompaniment by Zinman and the BSO was excellent.
The evening concluded with Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, No. 38. This masterpiece tends to be overlooked in favor of the composer's final three symphonies, but there was no chance of that in Zinman and the BSO's blazing rendition. Commentators have often noted the Prague Symphony's foreshadowing of the composer's opera "Don Giovanni," but with the violent timpani strokes, sharp dynamic contrasts and athletic fleetness offered by the performers, it was equally clear that Beethoven and his "Immortal Nine" were just around the corner.
Summerfest programs continue on July 23, 28 and 30. Lovers of Mozart and important music-making should make every effort to attend.