By Nancy Plum
Despite the vast amount and popularity of liturgical music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sacred music was not the composer’s principal interest. One would have a hard time convincing the choral field of this — two works in almost every symphonic chorus’ repertory are Mozart’s deathbed Requiem and his monumental, yet incomplete, Great Mass in C minor. The 100-voice Princeton Pro Musica opened its 2019-2020 season with the Mass this past Sunday night at Richardson Auditorium, filling the stage with singers, vocal soloists, and orchestral instrumentalists, all ably led by Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau. Paired with Mozart’s lively Concerto for Clarinet in A Major, the Great Mass in C minor created a program unique in the fact that these were two works Mozart composed because he wanted to, not because he had to for financial reasons.
Mozart’s music for wind instruments is universally charming and captivating. The clarinet appears to have been a particular favorite, likely due to his close friendship with fellow Masonic lodge member Anton Stadler, for whom he composed the 1789 Concerto for Clarinet. The instrument for which this work was composed was likely a basset clarinet — a standard clarinet to which was affixed an extension adding notes in the lower register. Nineteenth-century published versions of this piece adjusted the lower “extension” passages to higher octaves, in some ways making the Concerto more difficult to play. To open Sunday afternoon’s Pro Musica concert, Brandau led a chamber-sized orchestra and guest clarinet soloist Pascal Archer in a spirited performance of Mozart’s three-movement Concerto. Archer, currently acting principal clarinetist for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, demonstrated not only his command of the instrument and the works technical demands, but also how demonic Mozart’s solo writing could be. more