Tom Strini

MSO’s Mozart at the Basilica

By - Oct 15th, 2010 11:45 pm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The placid, solemn, implacable tread of the basses at the outset of Mozart’s Requiem Friday evening said: Time marches on. We all die.

And with that same bass line, Mozart said: I’m not innovating, here. I’m looking back to Baroque textures, with a bass line equal in importance to the melody, with poignant chords in between to press the emotional stress points, and with a renewed interest in counterpoint (which is, in Western music, eternal and sacred).

Music director Edo de Waart somehow managed to keep the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and four soloists balanced and clear in the vast Basilica of St. Josaphat, where the final chord might still be bouncing from one hard, gleaming surface to another. Of course Mozart’s finely-wrought chords overlapped  crazily amid the long decay, but de Waart kept the lines sorted out and the ensemble remarkably pristine. What was lost in harmonic clarity was gained in vibrancy and a sort of transparency that placed the listener inside the music. It was all around you.

As Mozart — with the help of Harvard musicologist and keyboard whiz Robert D. Levin, who completed the unfinished score — advances through the standard elements of the Requiem Mass, he moves through emotional phases.

They begin with clear-eye recognition in the Introit and Kyrie. Fear — even panic — over the unknown take over in the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum. The last line of Rex Tremendae is a turning point: “King of majesty tremendous” explodes from the chorus, but one line later the sopranos, pianissimo and as if distant, sing: “Fount of pity, then befriend us.” This opens a long stretch of humble supplication and recognition of personal guilt. In the home stretch — the Sanctus through the Cum Sanctis Tuis — conveys a charged serenity, a confidence that the outcome, whatever it might be, will be right.

Mozart wrote all this emotional weather into the music, but it doesn’t play itself. De Waart’s sensitivity to the shadings of timbre, pace and dynamics changed everything, as clouds change everything when they pass over the sun. The local crew plus soprano Tamara Wilson, mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Russell Thomas and bass Kevin Langan, all well matched to one another and to the music, read de Waart’s gestures precisely and delivered one right moment after another.

Todd Levy

A very different Mozart appeared before the Requiem, in the form of the Concerto in A Major for Clarinet, with Todd Levy as soloist.

The concerto features country-dance themes and a gentle pastorale at the outset of the second movement. But this is no Beethovenian rustic hoe-down. Mozart paints a Fragonard countryside, all elegant artifice and virtuoso expertise. Levy tossed it off in exactly that spirit of dazzling craft, with creamy, speedy legato runs and exquisitely arched phrasing. During intermission, everyone buzzed about what a great clarinetist is, and everyone was quite right.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 16-17), but both concerts are sold out.

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