Mainly (But Abridged) Mozart

United StatesUnited States Mozart and Dittersdorf: Susan Gulkis Assadi (viola), Jordan Anderson (double bass), Seattle Symphony, Stilian Kirov (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 18.10.2013 (BJ)

Mozart: Divertimento in D major, K. 136
Dittersdorf: Sinfonia concertante for viola, double bass, and orchestra
Mozart: Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201

 It could be said, and I think with much justice, that the Seattle Symphony’s associate conductor Stilian Kirov led the orchestra on 18 October in lively and polished performances of Mozart’s D-major Divertimento and 29th Symphony. It could be said equally justly that he led them in lively and polished performances of about seven-tenths of those two works.

Perhaps it is unfair to blame a young conductor for treating repeat marks in a cavalier manner that has, after all, been shared by many of his colleagues, including highly celebrated ones, over the years. But I think times have changed to the point where thinking you know better than Mozart how to shape a musical form is no longer acceptable behavior. The scores of the two works in question contain, spread across their seven movements, eighteen repeat marks, and to ignore as many as ten of them surely counts as cavalier. Nor was there any shortage of time to justify Kirov’s decisions on logistical grounds, since the program took only an hour and 35 minutes to perform, including intermission and the conductor’s quite expansive spoken comments.

I am the more inclined to make an issue of the question of interpretative presumptuousness because, despite his obvious talent, I could not rid myself of the impression that there is something a little too self-indulgent—self-advertising, I might almost say—in Kirov’s manner of conducting. In the preceding weeks, the work of guest conductors Thomas Dausgaard and Andrew Manze had certainly not been lacking in dramatic, at times even histrionic, gesture—but in both their cases the gesture emerged convincingly out of the sense of the music, whereas Kirov seemed to be putting the rhetoric in from outside.

Enough carping—there was indeed much to enjoy in the orchestra’s playing, and nothing to complain about in Kirov’s pacing of either work. The other Mozart piece on the program, the motet Exsultate, jubilate, was also well done: it is a pleasure to note that soprano Maria Mannisto seemed to have eradicated a tendency to let the ends of phrases fade away, which  troubled me slightly in an earlier encounter with her fine voice and assured musicianship.

The segment of the afternoon that wasn’t Mozart offered a rare and welcome chance to hear music by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who was not only a skillful composer, but used on occasion to play chamber music in Vienna with Haydn, Mozart, and Mozart’s father, Leopold. His Sinfonia concertante proved, without storming the heavens, to be a thoroughly enjoyable piece. Susan Gulkis Assadi’s account of the solo viola part was characteristically rich-toned and stylishly phrased. Jordan Anderson tackled the double-bass solo with similar conviction, though playing solo double-bass in a 2,500-seat auditorium is a somewhat thankless assignment—it would certainly have sounded more effective in the smaller Nordstrom Recital Hall.

Bernard Jacobson