Guest Conductor Feltsman Demonstrates Evolution Of Keyboard From Mozart's Time to the Present

Nancy Plum

The 250th anniversary Mozart birthday celebrations continued this past weekend as New Jersey Symphony Orchestra presented an exploration into Mozart's keyboard works. Guest conductor and soloist Vladimir Feltsman led the orchestra in a concert designed to both entertain and educate the audience on keyboard instrumentation of the late 18th century.

The keyboard of Mozart's time was in transition from the smaller and lighter fortepiano to an instrument capable of accommodating thundering Romantic virtuosi, and ultimately developing into the modern piano we know today. Exploring the fortepiano has become a mission to Mr. Feltsman, and Friday night's concert in Richardson Auditorium was a valuable lesson in the keyboard possibilities available to Mozart.

Mr. Feltsman chose an unusual and logistically trying method of demonstrating keyboard variations between the 18th and 20th centuries. Mozart's Concert-Rondo in D was scored for keyboard and orchestra, and Mr. Feltsman had the ensemble play the work twice during the first half, once with the fortepiano and then with the modern piano. The fortepiano used in this performance was accurate in pitch and light in touch, but nonresonant in timbre, making it sound a little dull-edged against the accompanying instruments. For this piece, the resonance and shimmer of the modern piano blended its sound with the orchestra more effectively. Although Mr. Feltsman's expert keyboard technique was evident on both instruments, the fluidity of the running 16th notes was cleaner on the modern instrument.

As a conductor, Mr. Feltsman worked without a baton, leading the sound along as the orchestra let the music flow. He used a smaller ensemble for the fortepiano version of the Concert-Rondo, eliciting an especially clean sound from the three cellos. Tempi were more consistent in the piano version of the work, and in both, Mr. Feltsman's ornamentation and octave lines were clear.

In Mozart's youthful Symphony No. 25 in g minor, Mr. Feltsman kept the opening Allegro movement dramatic, with clean unisons in the strings. Tapered endings to the first and third movements maintained a stylistic approach, and an oboe solo by Carolyn Pollak in the third movement Trio was sublime.

Mr. Feltsman demonstrated the range of his piano skills in Mozart's Concerto No. 24 in c minor for Piano and Orchestra. He stood to conduct, sitting at the piano to play (rather than conducting from the keyboard), but moved effortlessly from an authoritative conductor to soloist with steady rhythm in the right hand while conducting with his left. Orchestra and conductor worked well together, and Mr. Feltsman shaded his solo passages well among the intertwined wind solos from Ms. Pollak and flutist Bart Feller. Mr. Feltsman's cadenza (composed by Russian Alfred Schnittke) and improvised ornaments brought the Concerto into the 20th century. Serene wind solos in the second movement Larghetto included Mr. Feller on flute and a pair of oboes played by Ms. Pollak and Andrew Adelson.

Mr. Feltsman further entertained the audience with the popular Eine kleine Nachtmusik, maintaining delicate phrase endings and a very graceful second movement titled Romance. The orchestra has clearly played this work a great deal, and was able to execute considerable precision among the strings. Despite a more than usual amount of stage management during the performance, the elegance and effortless playing of both ensemble and soloist were worth the wait for the pieces to start.

This concert was part of a series of performances looking at different facets of Mozart's career. Other concerts will look at Mozart's later works and introduce the composer through family-oriented events. Although Mr. Feltsman did not adhere completely to 18th century convention by introducing 20th century cadenzas, Mozart would have been the first to admit that in his day, the musical times were definitely changing.

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