Mozart’s Sun

ItalyItaly Mozart Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Chorus master, Ciro Visco. Benedetto Lupo (piano). Conductor, Fabio Biondi. Sala Santa Cecilia, parco della Musica. 27-03-2013. (JB)

Symphony in A, K134
Piano Concerto in B flat K 595
Coronation Mass K 317

It’s not that Mozart’s sun shines brighter than other composers’. But it shines differently. How? First, it is more penetrating. Not in at one ear and out at the other, though it’s true to add that Mozart wrote more than his fair share of that kind of music. But Mozart at his best instantly penetrates what can only be called the inner ear. So does Beethoven of course. But Beethoven does this with the conviction of missionary zeal. Mozart’s sounds effortless. The engagement of the inner ear comes as a surprise. What sets out to be more-of-the-same-old-stuff, unexpectedly plumbs inward as well as onward. Yet the “trick” –if one may use so vulgar a word- has been accomplished with the skilled precision of a surgeon. It’s only on reflection we are able to recognise the surgeon’s flawless technique. The experience itself was too hypnotic. Like all the most skilled surgical interventions, the listener is in and out of it before fully registering that it has happened.

All this to say that we come out of the Mozart experience feeling healthier. Where else does the sun shine so effortlessly and so powerfully.That is point number two. But it is impossible to look back on this power. It can only be understood in the experience. Recreating it for analysis all but destroys it. It becomes consumed in its own shadows.

That brings us to point three. The shadows which Mozart’s sun casts are neither longer nor shorter than other composers’. But they are much more nuanced, frequently functioning as balm in the depths of the inner ear and more rarely as turbulence.


Weather warning: the sun rarely came out in this Mozart concert.

In 1772, Papa Leopold Mozart was hawking his prodigious son round the courts of the Austrian Hungarian Empire in the hope that the sixteen year old lad would be assumed as a Kappellmeister, thereby opening the door for work for the rest of the musical family. Wolfgang Amadeus churned out manuscript after manuscript as job application samples. Symphony number 21 in A, K134 was one such offering.

Fabio Biondi has a brisk, no-nonsense, business-like approach to this youthful effort. That seems right. The youthfulness comes through. Audacity is a virtue here. The lad has it abundantly. And besides, he has a wicked sense of humour too. The Minuet and Trio might easily be reckoned one of the first scherzos. One can hear Leopold (who from all accounts appears pretty humourless) saying, Don’t overdo the irony, my boy. Mercifully, the advice (if it was given) fell on deaf ears. The first and last movements bristle with life and the slow movement (andante) is not without charm either.

The B flat piano concerto K 595 is one of Mozart’s great masterpieces. But the performers are required to go below ground, to mine this maturity, to dig for it. Benedetto Lupo’s approach to Wolfgang Amadeus’s maturity though, is to make him sound like Beethoven. This doesn’t bolster Mozart up. It cuts him down. It destructively misses the point by imposing a false road through this rich terrain. This is all the more shocking in that Lupo is widely regarded as one of the most remarkably sensitive pianists on today’s scene. And an excellent teacher too.

The trouble is that K595 does not sound as though it lies comfortably under Lupo’s fingers and even less in his mind. Nor was there audible evidence of any real partnership between soloist and conductor, a matter which was attended to with thrilling results on 13 November 2012 when Barenboim and Pappano came together with the same orchestra in the same hall for this concerto. (See my review.)

Benedetto Lupo played a Brahms Intermezzo as an encore. Nicely poised it was, and mostly whispered. This shows that he still sometimes understands exactly what he is doing.

There was some good playing from the orchestra’s wind players and the usual high standard of singing from the Chorus in the somewhat slight, so-called Coronation Mass (Whose? One suggestion is the Virgin Mary’s) K 317. Fabio Biondi was right to keep the piece moving. That almost saved it.

Jack Buckley