|Harrison Miller and Nicholas McGegan|
Mozart wrote his Concerto for Bassoon in the congenial key of B-flat Major, K. 191 when he was but 18 years old. And bassoonist Harrison Miller is not that much older than that but seems to have mastered the very special idiosyncrasy of the instrument. We are not sure for whom the concerto was written in 1774 but it may as well have been written for Mr. Miller.
For much of the concerto, we experienced the bassoon as a sheep gamboling across a meadow of strings. Wide leaps and clearly articulated scale passages and trills sent thrills up and down our spine. The solo unaccompanied cadenza at the conclusion of the first movement was riveting; it seemed like someone telling their entire life story. The Andante seemed like an operatic aria with an outpouring of affection and devotion.
The remainder of the evening's program left nothing to be desired. We are not among those who crave the new and different; on the contrary we love the "war horses". There is a reason why some music has endured for centuries; it touches the heart and soothes the ear. Life today has enough anxiety and sufficient challenges!
We were ready to cut the young musicians of the Juilliard Orchestra some slack since it is just the beginning of the semester; this was unnecessary. Under the guidance of Maestro Nicholas McGegan, they came together as a unit and did as well with the Beethoven as they did with the Mozart
Maestro McGegan is a no nonsense conductor; we would call him expressive rather than theatrical. He pointed his finger, he waggled his hands, he wind-milled his arms, he stamped and he stooped and jumped up and down. None of this was self-serving; all of it was designed to pull the performance he wanted from the orchestra. The end result was he got what he asked for.
Mozart's Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, is affectionately called the "Haffner" since it was a reworking of a Serenade he wrote for the installation ceremony of a friend of his father who was elevated to the nobility. There is a vigorous opening movement followed by a serene and lyrical Andante with a recurring theme alternating with marcato passages in the strings. The Menuetto is stately yet rustic and employs rhythm in much the same manner as Beethoven's music.
And Beethoven did appear for the second half of the evening, in the marvelous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, known as the "Pastoral". We are not in agreement with critics of the time who criticized it for not breaking new ground.
We don't care one bit if it is "programmatic". If you want to hear birds singing or volcanoes erupting, that is your privilege. For our purposes we are happy to know that Beethoven visualized a day in the country and we did hear the birds. The storm was unmistakable with dramatic peals of thunder in the tympani. We particularly loved the way Maestro McGegan shaped the phrases of the Allegro by knitting together short motivi.
That's the great thing about a "bread and butter" program. One hears new things in old works and comes to love them even more.
(c) meche kroop