Mozart's last three symphonies are invariably introduced as "great," and many symphonic performances translate the word as dimensional, connoting magnitude. Symphony in C, at its Saturday reading of the
Symphony No. 41
at Rutgers-Camden, chose to translate it as "transcendent."
Rossen Milanov, leading the youthful orchestra in a Mozart-focused program, traced the intricate lines that appear and vary, finally coalescing into an image so powerful in its clarity that the weight of sound was almost incidental. The drama inherent in the work was reinforced by the ensemble's impressive pianissimo. The first bars were a focused whisper, and the players returned in critical moments to that hushed but colored sound to point directions and sum up completed ideas.
The playing never lost its warmth, but never obscured the music's inner workings - reasons for its greatness emerged in full. A deft phrase ending, a novel inner voice, a moderate push from the winds combined to explain and summarize. This was a kind of clinic on Mozart's innovations, but the playing stressed the expressive intricacy of elements that disclosed beauty and seriousness.
As the reading progressed, the second movement's shadows were logical outcomes of the opening movement's vigor and colors. The final movement was a conflict of form and innovation, but with ample reference to earlier details. The only true full orchestra fortissimo came on the final note. The music had built from a whisper to a declaration.
The program began with the U.S. premiere of Lera Auerbach's Eterniday (Homage to W.A. Mozart), which sought to portray, without quotation, the essence of Mozart's gift. Written for strings, bass drum, and celesta, it bore no Mozartean trademarks but suggested soaring solo playing for violin, cello, viola, bass, and an expressive series of sounds from the drum - an instrument Mozart never tried.
The composer, a colleague of Milanov's, described it as a kind of concerto grosso. Guided by beats of differing weight played by Matt Smallcomb using a variety of sticks, the solo voices followed melodic lines and pairings that suggested sadness but also ebullience. The celesta, played by Elise Auerbach, dropped arpeggios and single chiming notes into the textures, spicing the string writing and sometimes announcing change. The music's clarity seemed a watchword for the evening's program.
Midway, Milanov led the Concerto for Flute and Harp, with orchestra principals Megan Emigh, flute, and Madeline Blood, harp. Mozart's gift for charming and flattering his soloists was never clearer. These soloists twinned their phrasing, took valiant solo roles, and exposed the music's good-natured basis. The playing exemplified Mozart's gift for clothing virtuosity in apparent ease. That can earn the title "great" as well.