Pianist poses good questions about Mozart

February 10, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Easy Mozart doesn't exist, and the composer's last piano concerto may be the most difficult Mozart of all. The Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major (K. 595) was written in the composer's final year, and it is all too easy to romanticize it as a concerto of foreboding.

Richard Goode did not fall into that trap last night when he performed K. 595 with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Meyerhoff Hall. But it's difficult to capture this elusive work. Mozart's final concerto has snatches of self-awareness, even of self-parody, that interrupt the spontaneous flow characteristic of the composer's great earlier concertos. Nevertheless, there's a sense of mastery that suggests Mozart knew exactly what he was doing -- even if only that of taking concerto form into unexplored regions.

In the next few years, Goode will record the dozen or so greatest of the Mozart concertos, and one suspects that last night's performance represented an interpretation that is still in the process of working itself out. But one of the qualities that distinguishes Goode's playing is that -- even on occasions when it does not supply answers -- it almost invariably points a listener to the right questions.

Why, for example, does the composer open with the lively procession of tunes to which his earlier concertos accustom us, only to make the first of them show up later in a piquant minor key? And why does Mozart tease us in the second and third movements with moments of consolation and merriment, only to cut them short?

This is not to suggest that this was unsatisfying playing. In fact, the pianist's performance recalled those of Clifford Curzon, the English pianist whose death in 1982 deprived us of the last pianist able to persuade one utterly of the greatness of K. 595.

Goode combined ethereal lightness of touch with a powerfully argued musical line; his unhurried pace was superbly controlled; his articulation of details did not detract from a vision of the whole; and insights informed each phrase.

Goode's fine performance was supported by Zinman's secure command of the orchestra and the tonal refinement and delicacy of the BSO's wind players.

Those virtues were equally apparent in a concisely drawn performance of Mozart's overture to "La Clemenza di Tito" and a performance of the composer's "Jupiter" Symphony that was as humane and warm as it was crisp and classical.

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