Pianists Orion Weiss & Alessio Bax
Music of Mozart and Saint-Saëns provided the virtuosic vehicles for conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos and an array of soloists for the series March 17-19 at the California Theatre. Having attended the Saturday, March 18 performance, I can testify to the fine control Kitsopoulos exerted over a large ensemble – specifically the orchestra and the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and vocal soloists – for the Mozart Requiem in D Minor, K. 626 as well as Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 in E-flat Major for 2 Pianos, K. 365. Resting – perhaps “smirking” might be the better term – between the two Mozart works, Saint-Saëns’ satiric Carnival of the Animals (with narration by Ogden Nash) made a debonair, sophisticated interlude, featuring the duo-piano artistry of Orion Weiss and Alessio Bax, who had realized fine points in the Mozart concerto.
Mozart’s E-flat Concerto for Two Pianos (1779), meant to show off Mozart and sister Nannerl (Anna Maria) in concertante accord, in music that enjoys a happy combination of virtuosity and easy fluency of style. The piece itself relishes interplay and competition between the keyboards, and Orion Weiss (primo) made full use of his fingers and torso to convey the splendid runs, rockets, scales, and Alberti basses that flew from him to respondent, Alessio Bax. Along with French horn Meredith Brown, the rest of the orchestra made vibrant sense of the felicitous, verve-filled figures in the outer movements, while the B-flat Major Andante enjoyed a songful lyricism.
The good humor the evening’s first half immediately extended into the zesty spirit of Camille Saint-Saëns’ clever party-joke, his Carnival of the Animals (1886), with the pert narrative supplied by poet Ogden Nash (1949) and spoken with adroit, witty inflection by theater actor Julian Lopez-Morillas. Some of us recall the famous recording by Andre Kostelanetz that featured Noel Coward’s sibilant reading. This “zoological fantasy” contains any number of smart allusions to pet works by Rossini, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Offenbach, and Saint-Saëns himself, all by way of parody in rhythm and timbre, such as playing the famous “Can-Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld at a lugubrious tempo in the bass fiddles. My own reading of the “Hemiones” or onager section – a reference to an Asian ass – refers in its acceleration to Balzac’s Wild Asses’ Skin, in which sheer wishing upon the magic pelt reduces one’s life a day for each wish granted. The marvelous Aviary allowed flute principal Maria Tamburrino her moments in the sky; the Aquarium sent the two keyboard through silken waters; and the ubiquitous Swan held us in thrall while cello Peter Gelfand glided across the tarn in a seated position. Kudos as well to percussionist Galen Lemmon, whose xylophone had the bones of the Fossils cracking in bemused recollection of the Danse Macabre. Conductor Kitsopoulos, a pupil of colorist Sergiu Commissiona – and back to Constantin Silvestri – made the entire ensemble a musical Noah’s Ark of character and temperament, quite beguiling.
The epic Requiem in D Minor (1791) of Wolfgang Mozart has assembled a mythos about it as powerful as the unfinished score itself. Had Mozart lived to a riper age – one that would likely have included his receiving the same monetary support that Haydn had enjoyed – he meant to concentrate on church music, hopefully, for the city of Vienna. Mozart had been studying the fugues of J.S. Bach for some time, even arranging some of them for string quartet. This contrapuntal expertise suffuses much of the choral writing of the Requiem, adding to the colossal intensity of its faithful expression. Conductor Kitsopouos had excellent support from his forces this evening: the vocal quartet – Sylvia Lee, soprano; Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano; Vale Rideout, tenor; and Joo Won Kang, bass – along with a beautifully prepared Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, Elena Sharkova, director.
We could well appreciate Mozart’s massive gift for text-painting, especially in his six-movement Sequence, which includes the terrors of the Dies Irae, vividly portraying the abysmal descent of the damned. Of the many glorious solos, Joo Won Kang’s Tuba Mirum – with trombone support – projected wondrous color, joined in “just” harmony by all three of his colleagues. The visions of Divine Justice could be assuaged by Divine Mercy, as in the wondrous plea of the Lacrimosa, among Mozart’s most affecting melodies. Often, the molded string line effected by Kitsopoulos revealed the harmonic intricacy and chromatic audacities in Mozart’s textures, filled with ecstasies of sin and salvation; and completed with artful intelligence by Mozart’s acolyte, Franz Xaver Suessmayer, who took the composer’s suggestions until the last, rounding out the work with figures from its opening measures. Given the light spirits of the concert’s first half, the Mozart powerful Requiem cast a serious, mindful pall on our thoughts, of mortality and the afterlife, though Mozart’s innate optimism and faith may have instilled a collective sense of hope in all of us.