Ave Verum Corpus

I saw two very interesting concerts last week at Mostly Mozart. The first, on Tuesday, was a twin bill of Emanuel Ax playing the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat paired with the Mozart Requiem. On Saturday, I saw Alicia de Larrocha playing the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, along with two of Mozart's more popular symphonies (the "Haffner" and the "Jupiter").

I actually saw the Ax/Requiem twice: on Tuesday night in person, perched up in the third tier of Avery Fisher Hall, and Wednesday, on television at home, sprawled out on the couch after dinner, on Live from Lincoln Center.

Watching it on TV after seeing it live the night before was quite interesting. I should hasten to point out that it really was Live From Lincoln center, and not a broadcast of the previous night's performance. The easiest way to tell the difference was that when I saw the concert at Avery Fisher Hall, the on-stage cameramen were wearing white jackets; the following night they were wearing black jackets. Easy as pie.

What was more interesting was how being in the hall, even one as (and I'm using a technical term here) acoustically sucky as Avery Fisher, made the performance, particularly with the massive chorus that had been assembled for the event, alive and dynamic (I should add right now that the trombone soloist for the Tuba Mirum was superb). That sense didn't really come through over the television. The flip side is that in person, one could hear the occasional cell phone or beeper go off in the hall, something that was mercifully mixed out during the broadcast (unfortunately, I find it hard to believe that there was no instance of an electronic ring disturbing the performance on Wednesday night [it shouldn't be that hard to jam the common beeper/cell phone frequencies inside of a concert hall—admittedly, it might be illegal, but what's an FCC regulation compared to the Mozart Requiem?]).

As the chorus soared through the Dies Irae, I found myself wishing that I could hear them in a church.

The concert ended, not with the conclusion of the Requiem, but with the motet "Ave, Verum Corpus". It's a beautiful piece, no doubt, calm and elegant in its simplicity, but something of an odd comedown after the intensity of the Requiem.

Not that you were asking, but the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra did use the standard Sussmayr edition of the score (after all, this is the festival that still hasn't presented the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A with a bassett horn, the instrument that the piece was written for).

The Saturday concert was something of a valedictory for the conductor, Gerald Schwarz, who has been with Mostly Mozart in one capacity or another since 1982. It was a program that consisted entirely of war-horses, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Alicia de Larrocha, who is in her late 70s, delivered a performance of idiomatic elegance and grace; it was the kind of performance that flashier, more technical pianists would well to emulate (as a side note, my favorite interpreter of Beethoven at the piano is Walter Gieseking, who played even the most turbid music with an eloquence that can only be described as mind-boggling in its fluidity. What's particularly interesting is that Gieseking's Debussy is completely different—stormy, abrupt, defiantly modern). The two symphonies were played with gusto and polish, if not any entirely new ideas.