For most of us in the audience, it was probably the closest we’ll ever get to experience what an orchestral concert was like back in Mozart's day, when the conductor was not necessarily separate from the band.
It's a tribute to the professionalism of both Mr. Marwood and the symphony musicians that they sounded just as polished as they do when there's a separate conductor on the podium. Yes, there was a wince-inducing horn flub in the “Symphony No. 1”, but that’s the live concert experience for you. Mr. Marwood led with his eyes and body—his hands being mostly occupied with his 1736 Bergonzi violin—and the musicians appeared to be following him with cheerful ease. There were lots of smiles up there, especially among the strings.
Unconventionally, Mr. Marwood had most of the musicians standing rather than seated. I'm not sure whether that was common practice in Mozart's day or not, but it does seem to allow for a degree of physical involvement with the music that isn't quite so easy to come by when everyone is seated.
The range of pieces chosen nicely illustrated the breadth of Mozart's genius, from the charming (if trifling) “Symphony No. 1” (composed at the age of 8, when even Mozart gets a free pass on "trifling") to the masterful “Symphony No. 35” ("Haffner") from thirteen years later.
The former, in particular, benefitted from some nice dynamic shading in the outer movements and an overall approach that made the most of its frankly limited material. I’m not sure this piece would ever see the light of day if it didn’t have Mozart’s name attached to it, but it’s still fascinating to see what a firm grasp of his craft the composer had at such a young age.
As for Mr. Marwood’s “Haffner,” I’ll just confess that I was so engrossed by it that I completely failed to take any notes. This was a reading that did full justice to symphony’s many moods, from the dramatic first movement with its energetic, leaping main theme, to the genial second and third and the racing finale. To me, that last movement has always sounded a bit like one of Mozart’s comic opera overtures (it was, after all, written shortly after the premiere of his “Abduction from the Seraglio”), and I thought this performance brought that element out nicely.
Sandwiched between the two symphonies were the 2nd and 3rd violin concertos. They’re appealing works that serve to remind us that Mozart was a decent fiddler as well as a virtuoso pianist. The 3rd, in particular, is a real banquet of musical invention, with an ethereally beautiful second movement and unflaggingly jolly third.
Mr. Marwood played both the first violin and solo parts in the “Concerto No. 2.” Highlights of his performance included an impressive first movement cadenza and a wonderfully delicate second movement. Mr. Marwood stuck with the soloist and conductor roles for the more substantial “Concerto No. 3,” once again with completely satisfying results, including a particularly heartfelt “Adagio” and lively, foot-stomping finale.
There was some notable playing by oboists Phil Ross and Michelle Duskey in the third concerto as well as from Mark Sparks and Jennifer Nichtman on flutes although, as usual, everyone was in fine form.
The concert repeats today (the 12th) at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM at Powell Hall. For ticket information: stlsymphony.org. The Saturday concert will be broadcast on St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 FM and HD 1 as well as via the station Internet stream (which usually has the best sound) at the web site and via the St. Louis Public Radio mobile app.
Next on the regular calendar: Finland’s Hannu Lintu is on the podium with violinist Simone Lamsma for a dance-oriented program of Bartók‘s “Dance Suite,” Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 2,” and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Performances are Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, October 18 and 20. Saturday, October 19, is the annual “Red Velvet Ball” fundraiser with David Robertson and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. For ticket information: stlsymphony.org.