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The best version of Beethoven’s best symphony

Pent-up energy of world-class musicians was focused on Bruch's Violin Concerto

The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more. - Image by J. Kat Photo
The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more.

The Mainly Mozart Festival concluded on Saturday, June 19 with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. There were also concerts on Wednesday, June 16, and Friday, June 18.

Each of those three concerts contained a performance that will not be soon forgotten by those of us who care about such things. Over the years, Mainly Mozart has been a constant source of unforgettable concerts. The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more.

Video:

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26

Sarah Chang, violinist

Sarah Chang, violinist

On Wednesday, June 16, the performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto, with Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim as soloist, dripped with post-romantic pathos. I would challenge anyone to listen to Bruch’s Violin Concerto and not become an immediate fan of the piece. Maestro Michael Francis and the All-Star Festival Orchestra played the piece with a vengeance. The pent-up energy of world-class musicians, many of them denied opportunities to perform over the past 18 months, was focused on this singular piece of music.

For me, the pinnacle of the entire festival was on Friday, June 18. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 is often given the title of greatest symphony ever composed. I subscribe to that theory, even though there is no way to prove the point. Continuing with my opinion, I regard the climactic entrance of the horns in the second movement as the hinging point of the symphony. Over the years, I’ve searched for recordings that bring that point home with the authority I believe it deserves.

Video:

Beethoven - Symphony n°3 (Eroica)

Philharmonia / Otto Klemperer 1959

Philharmonia / Otto Klemperer 1959

My searching had led me to settle upon the 1959 recording with Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. There are some purists who will consider my opinion to be wholly and completely invalid, but I like my Beethoven the way I like my Beethoven. Check the online version of this piece to hear the music in question at the 25:45 mark of the video. But the gravitas with which Michael Francis and the Festival Orchestra horn section performed that passage was sufficient to move it to my top spot. That it was a live performance made it all the more spectacular.

It is always difficult to appreciate the technical and musical ability required to perform a Mozart piano concerto effectively. Mozart’s piano concertos were blatant “show-off” pieces in his day, but when it comes to pianistic fireworks, they pale in comparison to the concertos of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms, to name a few. Audiences have become accustomed to seeing octave flourishes flying up and down the keyboard, and that’s simply not what Mozart provides. Pianist George Li handled Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 on Saturday, June 19, like the master that he is. A silver medallist at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Li has all the chops required to blast his way through any concerto ever written. Yet the mastering of Mozart’s style is just as impressive an accomplishment. Li’s phrasing and touch were exquisite as he delivered Mozart’s music with an air of commanding ease.

Mainly Mozart CEO Nancy Laturno announced an upcoming September Festival. We shall wait and see what Mainly Mozart has in store for San Diego.

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The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more. - Image by J. Kat Photo
The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more.

The Mainly Mozart Festival concluded on Saturday, June 19 with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. There were also concerts on Wednesday, June 16, and Friday, June 18.

Each of those three concerts contained a performance that will not be soon forgotten by those of us who care about such things. Over the years, Mainly Mozart has been a constant source of unforgettable concerts. The 2021 Festival, falling as it has at the end of quarantine, stood out all the more.

Video:

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26

Sarah Chang, violinist

Sarah Chang, violinist

On Wednesday, June 16, the performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto, with Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim as soloist, dripped with post-romantic pathos. I would challenge anyone to listen to Bruch’s Violin Concerto and not become an immediate fan of the piece. Maestro Michael Francis and the All-Star Festival Orchestra played the piece with a vengeance. The pent-up energy of world-class musicians, many of them denied opportunities to perform over the past 18 months, was focused on this singular piece of music.

For me, the pinnacle of the entire festival was on Friday, June 18. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 is often given the title of greatest symphony ever composed. I subscribe to that theory, even though there is no way to prove the point. Continuing with my opinion, I regard the climactic entrance of the horns in the second movement as the hinging point of the symphony. Over the years, I’ve searched for recordings that bring that point home with the authority I believe it deserves.

Video:

Beethoven - Symphony n°3 (Eroica)

Philharmonia / Otto Klemperer 1959

Philharmonia / Otto Klemperer 1959

My searching had led me to settle upon the 1959 recording with Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. There are some purists who will consider my opinion to be wholly and completely invalid, but I like my Beethoven the way I like my Beethoven. Check the online version of this piece to hear the music in question at the 25:45 mark of the video. But the gravitas with which Michael Francis and the Festival Orchestra horn section performed that passage was sufficient to move it to my top spot. That it was a live performance made it all the more spectacular.

It is always difficult to appreciate the technical and musical ability required to perform a Mozart piano concerto effectively. Mozart’s piano concertos were blatant “show-off” pieces in his day, but when it comes to pianistic fireworks, they pale in comparison to the concertos of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms, to name a few. Audiences have become accustomed to seeing octave flourishes flying up and down the keyboard, and that’s simply not what Mozart provides. Pianist George Li handled Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 on Saturday, June 19, like the master that he is. A silver medallist at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Li has all the chops required to blast his way through any concerto ever written. Yet the mastering of Mozart’s style is just as impressive an accomplishment. Li’s phrasing and touch were exquisite as he delivered Mozart’s music with an air of commanding ease.

Mainly Mozart CEO Nancy Laturno announced an upcoming September Festival. We shall wait and see what Mainly Mozart has in store for San Diego.

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