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MUSIC REVIEW : Schwarz’s Mozart for the Masses

TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Mozart, Mozart everywhere. . . .

The Great Bicentennial Binge goes on, and it goes on apace. Amadeus actually has transcended both popular hyperbole and Technicolor.

We are getting Mozart and more Mozart these days in concert halls and opera houses from Augsburg to Zanzibar. Mozart has made it on tippytoe to the ballet. A kitschy klatsch of quasi-rococo Mozart souvenirs clutters store counters on countless continents. Record companies are cranking out Eine kleine Lebensmusik with sound commercial fury. Figaro’s nuptials are being celebrated on the screen as well as on so-called legitimate stages--by singers, actors and, yes, puppets.

It has been a great year for Mozartkugeln , that semi-obscene confection from Salzburg that fuses nougat with chocolate and, of course, marzipan. Even the nightly news shows are getting into the delirious act, with solemnn concert snippets from Vienna holding their own against coverage of a lurid trial in West Palm Beach, a hostage’s homecoming in Wiesbaden and a vastly different sort of commemoration at Pearl Harbor.

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When will the orgy of Mozartiana end? Soon, one hopes--with patently misguided optimism.

Mozart was a genius. Everyone appreciates that. He brightened a needy world that happened to treat him badly. The glow lingers.

But one can get too much even of a great thing, and not everything about the Great Bicentennnial Binge has been great. Much, in fact, has been mediocre or shoddy.

Quantity often has been confused with quality. Blind faith has been mistaken for valid reverence. Minor efforts--even Mozart cranked out some of these--have been hailed as masterpieces, and routine performances have been touted as lofty inspirations. Excess has been equated with success.

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The profound truth has been buried in feverish brouhaha: In 1992 Mozart will sound just as good, or just as not so good, as Mozart sounds in 1991. There is nothing intrinsically magical about a calendar statistic.

Still, some statistics are more memorable than others. Thursday, Dec. 5, 1991, happened to be the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death. On this night of all nights, attention had to be paid. The Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gerard Schwarz paid it poignantly at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The official bicentennial concert, a one-night non-subscription event, attracted a large, conspicuously youthful and justifiably enthusiastic audience. This certainly was was not the usual dutiful Thursday-night crowd.

The concert began uneasily with the portentous, anonymous voice of Ernest Fleischmann--the ubiquitous managing director of the orchestra--reciting biographical bromides about Mozart over the p.a. system. Luckily, the expendable prelude was brief, and the music-making that followed was marvelous.

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A canny veteran of many Mostly Mozart festivals at Lincoln Center, Schwarz savors the surface graces of Barqoque authenticity while he accentuates the daring emotional indulgences that made the composer a romantic in spite of his period. The conductor chose chamber-size ensembles and a chorus of 48, sustaining transparency and intimacy--as well as telling dynamic variety--in a house that seats 3,000.

He is a thoughtful musician and a respectable stylist. The combination of virtues, in this context, is particularly reassuring.

Schwarz concentrated on familiar repertory on this occasion, but took no interpretive traditions for granted. A particularly mellow yet nimble “Zauberflote” overture opened the festivities auspiciously. Then the Los Angeles Master Chorale, impeccably trained by Paul Salamunovich, brought endless breath and sweeping breadth to the shimmering piety of the motet, “Ave verum corpus.”

At star time, Richard Stoltzman played the Clarinet Concerto with arching legato finesse, with sprightly yet nonchalant bravura and delicate applications of light and shade. He mustered some elegant, unexpected flights of embellishment and, most memorable, turned a dangerously slow adagio into a haunting pianissimo elegy. Schwarz and an occasionally untidy orchestra provided generally eloquent support.

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After intermission came the inevitable Requiem. Schwarz stripped the tragic essay of heroic pomposity, stressing introspective lyricism wherever possible. The rehabilitated Master Chorale proved itself equally deft in contrapuntal agitation and muted serenity. The Philharmonic, a few rough edges apart, played with properly focused passion.

The solo quartet was dominated by a radiant Queen of the Night at the top--the soprano Sally Wolf--and a mellifluous Sarastro at the bottom--the basso Kevin Langan (who happens to be Wolf’s husband). The voices in between--Melissa Thorburn, mezzo-soprano, and Jonathan Mack, tenor--seemed less imposing, but the over-riding ensemble values were sensitively gauged by all.

Soloists and choir articulated the Latin with model clarity. Inadvertently, this expressive advantage drew attention to the inexplicable omission of the texts for both the Sanctus and the Benedictus in the printed program.

The year of Salzburg’s now-favorite son will not end just because Dec. 5 has passed. The conspicuous consumption is scheduled to continue for many months. Everyone wants to get into this exquisite act, and, no doubt, everyone eventually will.

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Mozart, Mozart everywhere. . . .


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