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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

Mozart-Mahler concert a challenge met

By Gregory Shepherd
Advertiser Classical Music Critic

It is hard to imagine two composers with more contrasting styles than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gustav Mahler.

Samuel Wong and the Honolulu Symphony were in fine form last night.

Advertiser library photo • 1998

Mozart's music, of course, embodies the Classical period ideals of elegance, refinement and high spirits, while Mahler's output is marked by almost neurotic mood swings between despair and elation.

A symphonic program combining works of both composers is a challenge not only to the orchestra but to the audience as well, but Samuel Wong and the Honolulu Symphony were more than up to that challenge at Friday night's concert at Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Written when the composer was only 21 years old, the "Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat Major" is the first of Mozart's fully mature works in that genre, and guest pianist Norman Krieger brought out all of its charm with a remarkably understated interpretation.

The first movement is full of the composer's trademark spiritedness, and Krieger's hands capered up and down the keyboard shaping musical phrases without a hint of force.

The second movement andantino is unusual for the young Mozart in that it is not only in a minor key but has a prevailing mood of gloom and tragedy.

Krieger's lyric rendering of the movement was thoroughly tasteful and without a hint of overdramatization on Friday, no doubt a temptation other performers find hard to resist.

The final rondo is also unusual in that Mozart interrupts the fast momentum of the movement with an almost humorously incongruous minuet, and Krieger and Wong were perfectly melded in their collaboration on rhythm, tempo and dynamics.

Mahler called his symphonies "little worlds" that he created, and most of these worlds are not unlike the real one we live in — full of unpredictability and strife, on the one hand, and nobility and exultation on the other.

His "Symphony No. 5" follows this pattern from its ominous trumpet fanfare, played with great beauty by Michael Zonshine. To show how far away the program has gotten from the style of Mozart, the first movement is marked "Trauermarsch," (funeral march).

The stormy second movement, with its performance indication of "In turbulent motion, with the greatest vehemence," has soaring melodies in almost all of the instrumental sections, and the winds and brass were especially impressive with their bells-up passages.

The cellos' singing tone on their unison section was also quite effective.

Wong keeps the exultant passages of the work from becoming ear-splitting and also does not allow the morose sections to bog down in bathos. The one distraction of the evening for those sitting in the left-front balcony was a faulty air-conditioning duct that rattled during pianissimo passages.

Gregory Shepherd has been The Advertiser's classical music critic since 1987.