The Philadelphia Orchestra with guest conductor Jane Glover

Mozart, from start to finish

What is there left to say about Mozart? He remains a legend if only for his youthful precociousness and prodigious output over an all-too-short lifetime. His musical daring is there if you look for it, but mostly he is revered for bringing the classical style to its most perfect expression, with originality, wit, and flair.

Jane Glover proves a woman's place is at the podium. (Photo by John Batten)

All these characteristics were present in guest conductor Jane Glover’s all-Mozart program with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was also a triumph of sorts for those who champion a larger role for women on the classical stage. In addition to Glover at the podium, the entire cello section comprised women, a first for this ensemble.

A lifetime of growth

The program consisted of works from each of Mozart’s three periods. Beethoven is typically sliced like Gaul into three parts, but it works for Mozart, too. The Symphony #1 in E-flat major, K.16, composed when Mozart was eight years old and touring London, clearly signals the first period. The Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K. 191, composed 10 years later, signals the arrival of the mature composer, and the great Symphony #41 in C Major, K. 551, the Jupiter, composed at age 32, is one of the masterworks of Mozart’s final years.

The “K.” listings are named for Ludwig von Köchel, who cataloged Mozart’s works. Note that Symphony #1 is K. 16, meaning there are at least 15 works or groups of works in the list before it (the last K. number is 626). If you want to feel like a slacker, note that the first symphony is preceded by, among other works, 10 violin sonatas. Sometimes Mozart’s music is trapped in the shadow of our amazement that a child, nurtured by one of the great stage fathers of all time, could produce so much new music of such high quality.

Glover brought a direct, affectionate approach to all three works, respecting the conventions (of good humor and good taste) of the times in which they were first performed. It is not surprising that she, as director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, has a cheerful disposition toward the classical master, who was but a generation removed from the stately but upbeat Baroque era.

The Symphony #1 is a light and graceful work, each of its three movements focused on a four-note theme and sparsely scored for strings, oboes, and horns. The four-note motif in the second movement (Do Re Fa Mi) is the same as a finale theme from the 41st symphony, showing either amazing prescience or the limitations of a seven-tone scale. At any rate, it links the first to the last symphony in a kind of Möbius strip of sound. In this work in particular, Glover brings out the woody warmth for which the Philadelphia Orchestra is known, creating a sound that is mellow and sweet rather than crisp and shrill.

Sweet and low

Daniel Matsukawa, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, provided a delightful performance of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. I noticed, as I had not before, just how beautifully the horns pair with the bassoon in this concerto, sort of like peaches in raspberry sauce. It was such a treat to hear such heavenly sounds coaxed from this large, unwieldy-looking instrument. Matsukawa performed standing up, adding a dimension that was almost dancelike. His splendid fluency and technical precision supported an interpretation that was intelligent, witty, and of rare beauty. At times, there was tenderness in his playing one seldom hears from this ungainly woodwind. At the performance I attended, Matsukawa received several well-deserved curtain calls.

The final work on the program was the fruit of Mozart’s maturity, the Jupiter Symphony. Glover’s reading respected the historic context of a work composed in 1788 while taking advantage of the unique powers of a 21st-century orchestra. Although my personal taste is for a brighter, more driven approach, the mellowness and introspection of this performance provided a satisfying listening experience, especially in the poignant moments of the second movement. The work gained momentum and vitality as it proceeded, winding through some complex fugue writing, and ending with a burst of fiery spirit, a bold conclusion (although I like a bit of rubato in the last moments, like taking a breath before a dive). Here was evidence, in case we needed it, that a woman’s place is at the podium and in the pit.

Our readers respond

Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on January 11, 2017

Thank you for this fabulous review where you give credit to Daniel Matsukawa's stunning performance of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. His very soft reeds and smooth transitions through the large leaps required by Mozart's writing was intriguing and delightful, and his cadenzas were so fresh in their improvised state that even the orchestra was not sure when they would end. He deserves your well-written praise.

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