All Mozart, but only partly successful

Matthias Bamert was the guest conductor for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia's performance Sunday.
Matthias Bamert was the guest conductor for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia's performance Sunday.
Posted: March 26, 2014

If any composer can occupy a concert on his own, it should be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Oddly, that didn't quite happen with Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia's Sunday outing at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater with esteemed Swiss guest conductor Matthias Bamert.

Bamert's extensive discography includes relatively minor figures with famous last names - Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn - which explains why his program began with the better-known Mozart's teenage Symphony No. 17, which, unlike many works of his youth, doesn't hold up all that well. Combine that with the more mature but still somewhat slight Flute Concerto No. 2 (K. 314) and the concert's first half wasn't scintillating, depending on the second half's Symphony No. 40 for redemption.

Well, that happened, though with some unexpected pluses and minuses along the way. The pluses: Any reasonably experienced Mozartean would hear that the flute concerto has a different manner than its predecessor in the same medium. The soloist and the orchestra don't regard each other with as much formality. The soloist tends to cleverly emerge from the orchestral textures. The level of invention is a notch higher. One explanation emerged in the Bernard Jacobson program notes: The piece started life as a concerto for oboe - a less soloistic but invitingly collegial instrument.

Philadelphia Orchestra principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner gave a performance that reflected more consideration than thrills. You knew where Mozart's sleights of hand were and cadenzas, in particular, had a great variety of expression (more about ideas than notes), which is likely to be heard from a soloist with a long history with the piece.

In Symphony No. 40, Bamert was a somewhat reserved, medium-voltage presence. Balances within the orchestra were meticulous: At any point, one heard an evenly voiced harmonic cross section, with particular attention given to the vital but never overbearing double bass presence. Antiphonal moments emerged with unusual clarity.

But the sometimes-heard string-section luster was less in evidence here. The performance felt careful, where the earlier Mozart symphony had rough patches, suggesting limited rehearsal.

Chamber Orchestra has had to live dangerously, economically, in recent years. Standards, though sometimes high, have been less consistent this season. And there was no wild-card encore-ish piece from music director Dirk Brossé for distraction.


dstearns@phillynews.com.

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