Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra (Review)

Review of Ridgefield Orchestra Concert—January 4, 2003—by Courtenay Caublé

Ridgefield Press

The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s secondary chamber orchestra series at the Ridgefield Playhouse, sponsored the Union Savings Bank, is becoming a tradition, as is the giving over of the first of the two programs entirely to works by Mozart. Maestro Sidney Rothstein’s scheduled program last Saturday evening, sponsored in part by John and Joanne Patrick, included Mozart’s wonderful Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, featuring the double artistry of Philadelphia Orchestra principal violist Roberto Diaz and his concert violinist wife, Elissa Koljonen, and was to have included both the great composer’s Symphony No. 29 in A and his Symphony No. 33 in B-flat. Wintry weather, though, limited preparation time to a single rehearsal and forced Rothstein to drop the second of the two symphonies (No. 33) in favor of a last-minute substitution — an unaccompanied duet that the two solo artists agreed to add to the menu.

Unlike Beethoven, who, in addition to producing towering masterpieces, also managed (particularly in his early career) to produce a number of works of dubious quality that are now thankfully never heard and seldom mentioned, Mozart seems to have been incapable of technical imperfection or poor musical taste. As was also true of J. S. Bach, everything Mozart touched turned to silver or gold.

Mozart’s greatest works, though — the ones that deeply involve listeners — are those in which his inner passion found its way to coexist with and occasionally overmaster the prescribed symmetry and musical clichés so characteristic of eighteenth-century classicism. That doesn’t happen to a significant extent in either the Duo in G or the Symphony No. 29.

The Duo is remarkable, however, for its surface charm and for the various ways that Mozart’s genius manages to compensate for the potential textural thinness of a piece written for only two voices. The two artists played it with alternating grace and spirit, with only an occasional suggestion – as in a tendency for accompanying viola figurations to overbalance solo violin passages – that the performance was an impromptu one.

Written when Mozart was only seventeen, the Symphony No. 29 in A Major would have been considered old fashioned in both form and inspiration even at the time of its composition; but its musical perfection and pervasive grace and charm made it a pleasure to hear. A bleep now and again from the French horn (an occupational hazard for that instrument) in the spirited final movement was the only noticeable flaw in the RSO’s creditable performance.

Since the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra ranks with the finest of Mozart’s masterpieces, one can only be astonished that there is no recorded evidence to suggest when or for whom it was written, or even definite proof that Mozart wrote it. Telling compositional similarities to other mature Mozart works, however, plus the combination of masterful writing and profoundly moving lyricism, prevent anyone from seriously questioning its authorship.

Koljonen and Diaz were a flawless team, playing consistently in perfect balance. The piece is one of those miraculous works in which the elegance of eighteenth-century classicism is happily wedded to near-Romantic depth of expressive lyricism. Mozart treats the two solo instruments equally, often in a sort of musical dialogue; and from their unison entrance after the first movement’s long orchestral introduction, the two artists played with equal intensity and warmth, with the effect of an almost articulate emotional conversation; and they played the movement’s duo cadenza with easy coordination and expressive depth.

Particularly after Mr. Diaz markedly slowed the gloriously expressive second movement’s tempo to a more languid pace in his first solo entrance, the combination of the soloists’ beautiful playing and the RSO’s fine support under Maestro Rothstein made that movement the evening’s performance high point. The spirited final rondo was well done too, although a very slightly less rapid tempo might have provided more room for expressive phrase development in the episodes between statements of the main theme.

The RSO’s next Playhouse Concert, set for March 16, will feature New York Philharmonic violinist Charles Rex in Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” plus works by Frederick the Great and Josef Haydn, and the orchestra’s next regular subscription concert, on February 8, will feature pianist Matthew Bengtson in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G along with Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture and Brahms’ Third Symphony.

Other reviews of this concert
Review by Jim Pegolotti