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Seeing Red with Mozart and Schnittke

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jun 19, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   Mozart was full of surprises, like writing the greatest of all bassoon concertos when he was just 18.
   Sunday afternoon’s Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert in the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Corbett Auditorium had a few surprises, too. Like the bright red shirt worn by principal bassoonist Hugh Michie, soloist in the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, and the red bassoon spotted in the orchestra during Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 ("Linz").
   However, neither equaled Alfred Schnittke’s 1977 spoof, "Moz-ART a la Haydn," which had CCO music director Mischa Santora strenuously conducting the air after the musicians had left the stage.
   It was the second concert of the CCO’s Mozart Mini-Festival and its chief emphasis was wind music.
   Mozart had a particular fondness for the winds and lavished his art on the most utilitarian forms, such as music for social events. Sunday’s opener was his great Serenade in C Minor, K.388. Scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, it is deeply, even darkly expressive. Seated on a stool in front of the players, Santora led an extraordinary performance. He seemed to have the music in his head, hardly ever referring to the score, and attending to every nuance and textural detail. Kudos to principal oboist Christopher Philpotts and principal clarinetist John Kurokawa for their exquisite solos.
   Michie got some hearty bravos after the Bassoon Concerto (several of his colleagues could be spotted in the audience). And justly so. It’s a genial work, which he made into a thing of beauty mellow and shapely in the Allegro, wistful in the Andante, with nimble cadenzas and a well spoken finale.
   Schnittke’s wacky collage for string ensemble and two solo violins, splats fragments from a lost Mozart work onto a vision of Haydn’s "Farewell" Symphony (No.45). It began in total darkness with a bit of soft rustling, then the lights went up. Concertmaster Amy Reider and principal second violinist Cheryl Benedict sawed their open strings as if in announcement. They followed with snatches of melody, mismatched counterpoint and stratospheric trills terminating in wavering downward glissandos. A quote from Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor brought smiles of recognition though, to this listener, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" also seemed just below the surface. After a chaotic climax, the players exited one by one as in Haydn’s "Farewell," except the cellos and bass who fell mute, leaving Santora as "solo conductor" for a few bars.
   Mozart’s "Linz" Symphony was elegant and singing, melodies growing out of each other with delightful inevitability. The Presto finale was remarkable for its accuracy of ensemble, the slurred, quicksilver runs in the violins emerging as distinctly as if bowed separately.
   The CCO Mozart Mini-festival concludes at 3 p.m. Sunday in Corbett Auditorium with guest artist Daniel Wachs in the Piano Concerto in F Major, K.413, and E-flat Major, K.271 ("Jeunehomme"). Tickets are $10, children under 15 free. Call (513) 723-1182.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post June  19, 2006)