Mozart-minded: Impressions of IVCI's second-night Classical finals

 It's clear from his birth records and the way he wrote his name in any serious context that Wolfgang Amadé Mozart's middle name was not "Amadeus." Yet a sturdy tradition with that Latin version was given modern multigenre confirmation by Peter Shaffer's play and the movie starring a cackling Tom Hulce.

The "Amadeus" image holds as well in the divided nature attributed to the great composer by what Shaffer imagines to have been the view of his older contemporary Antonio Salieri, who wondered that the vulgar, immature prodigy he knew seemed also divinely gifted. The court composer, who eventually went mad, questioned God's justice in pouring fine wine into such an unworthy vessel.  Without over-stressing the point, music-lovers and violinists have seen both the otherworldly elegance and the rambunctious adolescence in the Austrian genius' five violin concertos, written in 1776 when he was 19.

In the 11th quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, two performances of the Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Thursday night bore contrasts of the sort that hinted at both aspects of Mozart.

Sirena Huang: Evoking the Countess, among other pluses.

I'm not suggesting she even hinted at anything vulgar,  but SooBeen Lee offered an interpretation that was restless and borderline impulsive in the first movement, subtly conveyed teen angst in the second, and romped and became cheeky in the finale, qualities capped by the cadenza. By way of contrast, Claire Wells' approach to the same score was beguiling in a lofty manner, and seemed focused on the élan that the maturing composer was to maintain in maturity until his premature death in 1791.

Both finalists, accompanied judiciously and in full sympathy by the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, then brought the corresponding personality traits to their encores. The Classical Finals have been cleverly designed to memorialize Jaakko Kuusisto, a 1994 IVCI Laureate, by playing the arrangements he made of Fritz Kreisler short pieces for soloist and string orchestra.

Wells chose "Tambourin chinois," playing in a manner that turned its outdated exoticism into the best kind of elite tribute. It was dashing and uplifting. Lee chose "Liebesleid'," one of Kreisler's most heart-rending melodies; the piece suited her dark, romantic tone, and the hints of lamentation that served her so well in the concerto's slow movement were confirmed in the Kreisler bonbon. The recurrent dotted rhythms were precise but never to sharp-angled to disturb the mood.

After intermission, there was a change of concerto, in contrast to the other three finalists' selection of No. 5 in A major, Mozart's  best-known violin concerto. I heard only Joshua Brown's via live stream, so won't comment on Wednesday's concert here.

Sirena Huang, who made a great semifinal impression on me as she brought that IVCI round of recitals to a close Monday evening, continued to evince her extensive competition experience and all-round mastery as she played Violin Concerto No. 3 in G with the ECCO.  She simply reveled in the zest of performance, choosing to double the orchestral statements in the tuttis and tossing off flamboyant cadenzas, with some anachronistic but tasteful left-hand pizzicato in the finale's.

The Adagio of this concerto is my favorite among the five. Unsurprisingly, it shares with many of Mozart's tunes an operatic stature with emotional intimacy. Allowing for some violinistic gestures, you could easily place it in the same realm as Countess Almaviva's  "Dove sono" in "The Marriage of Figaro." Like that aria, it has the same poised dignity in lamenting lost happiness and clinging to hope. Huang displayed the personality and secure style that the music needs. 

And to top a laureate-worthy exhibition of her fitness, Huang offered in "La Gitana" a sparkling Kreisler evocation of the "gypsy" manner so attractive to central European composers. The performance maintained the consistency she's shown so far in knowing the detail as well as the overall direction of any music she undertakes. 

There's a lot of this command evident among the finalists I've heard. When the romantic/modern concerto finals open tonight, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theatre, it will be fascinating to see how high this standard is adhered to.


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