Anyone lucky enough to own the complete set of Mozart's piano concertos that Mitsuko Uchida recorded with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra does not need to be told that the British conductor is a fine Mozartean. This past weekend Tate conducted the Baltimore Symphony in an all-Mozart program -- his guest-conducting stint continues this week with Brahms and Strauss -- and the concert I heard yesterday afternoon in Meyerhoff Hall was predictably fine.
But that prediction had almost as much to do with the history of the orchestra Tate was conducting as with his own fine Mozart recordings with (and without) Uchida and the English Chamber orchestra.
In his 13 years as the orchestra's music director, David Zinman created what I think is the finest Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven ensemble in North America (and perhaps in the world). Thus while Tate's reading of the second movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 39 in E-flat (K. 543) had an impressive warmth and humanity and demonstrated a fine ear for bringing out details of instrumentation in wind balances, these are also qualities that this orchestra brings to Mozart -- no matter who is on the podium. But Zinman's Mozart was as immaculate as it was moving. And the singing lines in his performances almost never collapsed beneath the weight of details invested in them as Tate's almost did on this occasion.
Tate collaborated with the young Swiss pianist Andraes Haefliger in the Concerto No. 11 in F major (K. 413), the first (and, unfortunately, the least) of the composer's mature piano concertos. Slight though it is, pianist, conductor and orchestra played this work beautifully. There was a fine clarity of articulation, as well as an abundance of ideas that were carefully shaped without sounding affected. The pianist made the slow movement sound wonderfully inward -- not an easy thing to achieve in this piece.
I left Meyerhoff for a concert elsewhere midway through a performance of the program-concluding Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter") in C major (K. 551). It may have been the case that my mind was already focused on making the next curtain on time. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the musical line in Tate's thoughtful reading of the "Jupiter's" slow movement -- as it had in the slow movement of K. 543 -- tended to sag unnecessarily under the weight of detail.