John Frayne | Sinfonia da Camera's classics were a fine bouquet, indeed

John Frayne | Sinfonia da Camera's classics were a fine bouquet, indeed

The Sinfonia da Camera concert on March 2 in Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts was entitled "A Bouquet of Classics" and a concert that featured two of the greatest symphonies of the Classical Period, Wolfgang Mozart's Symphony No. 39 and Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 104 ("London"). They certainly deserved the term "classics" in both its meanings.

And the "Bouquet" was for Lizie Goldwasser, who, with her late husband, Ned, was a staunch supporter of the Sinfonia da Camera from its beginnings in 1984 down to today. Ian Hobson's son, Jeremy, who is co-host of NPR's "Here and Now," expressed appreciation and gratitude to Lizie in a brief speech before the second part of the program.

The 39th Symphony of Mozart in E-flat Major was one of the three great symphonies that he wrote in the summer of 1788, and the great mystery associated with them is: for what occasion did he write them? Mozart wrote symphonies for performances, not because he happened to be in the mood.

The 39th of Mozart has always been my favorite since I was introduced to the work through a recording conducted by that great Mozartean, Sir Thomas Beecham. I still find the rising theme of the first movement so beautiful, and the clarinets, J. David Harris and Solomon Baer, in the minuetto movement and finale were first rate in this insightful performance by the Sinfonia. Conductor Hobson achieved in the finale an admirable balance of strings, woodwinds and brass.

The composer Ludwig van Beethoven has been often regarded as the man who changed the course of music. With the 1795 Piano Concerto No. 2, one might see him as one who continued the tradition of Mozart and Haydn.

Beethoven, after all, was Haydn's pupil, and this 1795 Concerto was performed in the same year as the composition of Haydn's London Symphony, which followed this concerto on the Sinfonia program, and this concerto mainly followed the Mozart model.

Hobson conducted as well as played the solo part in the Beethoven concerto. Hobson drew very dramatic playing the Sinfonia, while at the keyboard he polished off scales with his usual brilliance. His playing of the concluding rondo finale was a model of playful variety in bringing back the leading theme again and again. The audience's reaction was very strong for the orchestra and the pianist/conductor.

Can you tell the difference in the orchestral styles of Mozart and Haydn? Grabbing the tiger by the tale, let me say that I find Mozart to be more suave, subtle and at times delicate, and Haydn to be clearer, more decisive,and earthier.

What I have always admired in this "London" Symphony is the wild outbursts for full orchestra in the first movement, and Hobson and the Sinfonia attacked these moments with admirable gusto.

Throughout this symphony, the flutes, Jonathan Keeble and Rebecca Johnson; the oboes, John Dee and Michael Helgerman; and the bassoons, Timothy McGovern and Alexander Brake, deserved high praise, as well as the whole ensemble.

In the whirwind finale, the melody, based on a Croatian folk song, was tossed around the orchestra, leading to a breath-taking finish. After the music stopped, the audience rose in admiration for this evergreen "Bouquet."

During this coming week, the Krannert Center will be largely silent during spring break, but the last part of the 2018/19 season will start with a bang, when on March 27, the San Francisco Symphony comes to the FGH, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, and Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 3, "Eroica" will be on the program.

Also to be heard will be Felix Mendelssohn's great and charming Violin Concerto, Op. 64. Tilson Thomas will be ending his 25-year stay in San Francisco next year. This program will include his own composition, "Agnegram," which is a lighthearted march, written in 1998, in which a scale is created after letters in the name of Agnes Albert, an exemplary patron of the San Francisco Symphony.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

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