French Night at Mostly Mozart

Last night I attended a Mostly Mozart concert where the accent was French: the conductor was Jeremie Rhorer, and the piano soloist was Bertrand Chamayou.  This was quite a marvelous concert.

First, Maestro Rhorer led the orchestra in Joseph Haydn's Symphony in Eb Major, No. 22, which has been nicknamed "The Philosopher."  This is unusual for a Haydn symphony in reversing the usual order of movements, beginning with a slow movement, then a fleet Presto, then a minuet and a final Presto.  It is also unusual in using two English Horns instead of the normal two oboes, and eschewing flutes, brass and percussion entirely.  The performance was neat, trim, totally ship-shape, and phrased with grace and subtlety by Rhorer, whose flowing gestures induced a very smooth sound from the orchestra.

Bertrand Chamayou has made a big impression on me with his first recordings, especially the Franck disk, and I was eager to hear him in Mozart's Piano Concerto in A, No. 12 (K. 414).  The performance was sparkling!  It brought me back to my youth when I first heard Mozart concerti in recordings by Robert Casadesus with George Szell.  There was an excellent rapport between Chamayou and Rhorer. Chamayou's keyboard touch combined just the right balance of forcefulness and restraint, never heavy-handed, always flowing, never unduly stretching or breaking the line but never mechanical.  Exemplary in every respect.

After intermission, we had one of my favorite "early" Mozart symphonies, No. 29 in A, K. 201.  Although the orchestration is sparing (a few woodwinds, no brass, no tympani), even with this small orchestra Mozart could make a big sound, and the symphony is a big piece.  It was in the repertory of several early 20th century conductors who didn't play lots of Mozart, including Toscanini and Koussevitzky.  Beecham recorded it, of course.  I particularly love the minuet, which employs dotted rhythms to build excitement.  Rhorer took it slightly faster than I am used to, and undoubtedly faster than anyone would have actually danced a minuet, but it was exhilarating.  The finale, truly played "con spirito," was even more so.

All in all, this concert maintained and exceeded the high standard of performance that has been achieved in this year's edition of Mostly Mozart.  I hope we hear both the conductor and the pianist again soon in New York.

2 thoughts on “French Night at Mostly Mozart

  1. I heard Betrand Chamayou play a Mozart concerto in Toulouse when we were in France a few years ago. A couple of days later we came across him again in the parish church in Cordes where he was rehearsing the Piano Quartet by Thomas Ades under the composer’s direction. Later in Paris we found ourselves in the same metro train – we couldn’t seem to avoid him ! I’ve been following him on record ever since- I recommend his all Mendelssohn disc which offers a mixture of the familiar with lesser known pieces and the performances are just sparkling and in great sound. (P.S. I hope you survived Irene OK)

  2. Thanks, we survived Irene just fine – so far. (Still high winds in the area, but we haven’t lost electricity or suffered any flooding in our neighborhood.)
    Yes, Chamayou is excellent, and I agree that the Mendelssohn disc is superb. I also like the Franck disc a lot, and I hope he gets to record some Mozart concerti soon, because he has an excellent feeling for it.
    I was sitting in the second tier box which is directly next to the house box. After the intermission, Chamayou came into the box and sat listening to Rohrer conducting the Mozart Symphony 29. He was raptly attentive throughout, and applauded vociferously at the end, then rushed out before anybody could say anything to him. I think it is interesting that a soloist would do that, and not just leave at the intermission… Very collegial.

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