MOZART: In-Between = Symphony No. 23 in D Major, K. 181; Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271 “Jeunehomme”; Thamos, Koenig in Aegypten, K. 345, No. 2 and No. 5; Mitridate, re di Ponto, K. 87: “Venga pur, minacci e frema”; SCHULER: In-between for String Quartet and Orch. – Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor/ L’Orch. de Chambre de Geneve/ David Greilsammer, piano and cond.– Sony Classical 88725430252, 69:40 ****:
Israeli-born, pianist-conductor David Greilsammer (b. 1977) definitely proclaims this CD as a kind of polemic for Mozart’s (Manichean) personality in times of transition: “each of the pieces. . .represents a different in-between situation, all guiding us towards the violent imaginary storm that occurs in Mozart’s heart.” The struggle with contradiction forms the rubric of the album, and it embraces opposing emotions, moods, affects, and stylistic developments. To this end, Greilsammer and the Geneva Chamber Orchestra commissioned a new piece from Swiss composer David Schuler (b. 1970) in 2010. His own In-between refers to “an indeterminate situation or a potential place. . .a physical, mental, geographic or temporal distance.”
Greilsammer the conductor opens with an electrifying realization of Mozart’s 1773 “Italian” Symphony No. 23 in D Major, K. 181, whose Mannheim Rockets have rarely sounded so rife with Jupiter’s fire. Basically a sinfonia in three movements, its Allegro spiritoso has here Greilsammer’s added tympani parts, and they prove as menacing as anything in Gluck’s Orfeo. Both transparent and threatening at once, the figures mark the youthful composer as a clear proselyte of the sturm und drang school, but blessed with a gift for lyrical expression that sets him quite apart as an evolving talent. Attacca to the expressive Andantino grazioso, a lovely two-part aria with a gratifying solo oboe part. More alternation of major and minor in the resounding Presto assai, a storm of militant energy in itself, again with added tympani.
The same pungent energies apply to the Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, a work praised in the liner notes – by scholar Alfred Einstein – as tantamount to Beethoven’s Eroica. The relatively light scoring for orchestra helps to point up Greilsammer’s fleetly bright playing, especially in solos and with interwoven fabric shared by the oboes. The spare string vibrato lends a cleaner sound as well; in fact, the entire sonic production – courtesy of engineer Martin Kistner – indulges the orchestral sighs, keyboard trills, and quick staccati ring with a vibrant sonorousness. While the credits do not specifically name “period instruments” as an aspect of the Geneva ensemble, the strings and horns do project an “antique” sound that plays well against Greilsammer’s pert instrument. A sparkling and thoughtful cadenza leads to more colloquy between piano (in a series of trills and brilliant runs)and orchestra, although normal procedure would have left the entire coda to the instrumental tutti.
The emotional heart of the Concerto remains the affecting C Minor Andantino, what Greilsammer calls “a bottomless pit of grief.” The piano part indulges in a variety of Italian opera aria, infinitely delicate and personally intimate, a parlando that could at any moment “devolve” into recitative, which does occur prior to the coda. The often excruciating outbursts from the orchestra intimate the influence of the C.P.E. Bach “emotional” style, but here raised to a new level of consummate expressiveness. The highly meditative quality of this realization warrants the price of admission, given its pearly, seamless tension whose elongated arch never loses its affective focus. Indeed, if any moment in this traversal of Mozart deserves Greilsammer’s epithet of “two worlds,” it is this magnificent movement in which emotional security and identity suffer existential doubts. The scintillated, whiplash execution of the Rondeau: Presto opening of the last movement dispels the clouds; until at least, until the pace becomes Menuetto in four (magical) A-flat Major variations, Greilsammer having added his own cadenza flourish and pregnant pauses to increase the affective uncertainty of the proceedings. With the return of the Tempo primo, the pace and energy increase, as though Mozart were now more ensconced in his joie de vivre than ever. So far as Mr. Greilsammer is concerned, all the contradictions in Mozart have found a hard-won, thoroughly brilliant resolution.
It was conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos who first introduced me to the pomp and ceremonial occasion of Mozart’s incidental music from his 1779 Thamos, King of Egypt. A stage-play by Baron Tobias Philipp von Gebler, a fellow member of the Masonic society, it describes in Manichean terms the victory of good over evil, the sun over the forces of darkness. The Maestoso – Allegro that we first hear combines dark and stormy elements that prefigure Mozart’s own Masonic Funeral Music and the dramatic impulses in Beethoven. The second excerpt – Allegro vivace assai – frames the new piece by Denis Schuler. Percussive and sounding aleatory in its randomly colliding clusters, it reflects the composer’s intention to resemble “human breathing, as sound emerge and then vanish. . . .The listener is invited to inhabit this ‘in-between’ world and bring it to life through sheer curiosity.” Well, pardon if this cat’s curiosity does not wish to overstay his visit. I moved onward to the relatively ‘familiar’ throes of Mozart’s Thamos with few regrets.
The concluding work, an aria from Mozart’s 1771 early opera Mitridate, re di Ponto, was composed for Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan and comprised Mozart’s first success in the genre of opera seria. We can well imagine that the aria – with text by Farnace – was conceived for a castrato soprano, here realized by countertenor Lawrence Zazzo. The aria’s rounded cantilena requires sudden shifts of register and sustained melismas, with quick shifts in patter and long-lined parlando. Fashioned much in the style of Handel, the aria breaks into three sections, a kind of ternary song with a meditative middle section braced by two allegros. So, is sexual identity yet another mystery we have come to explore, or is Mr. Greilsammer merely exploring in Mozart his own “feminine” side?