Mozart Festival: A Little Night Music with Jon Kimura Parker

Friday, Nov 5 2010

Bob Clark, Calgary Herald

The music of Mozart from near the beginning of his career to very close to the end was the focus of a Calgary Philharmonic program on Thursday at Jack Singer Concert Hall that clearly made Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker a close runner-up to the composer in audience affections.

The Mozart Festival concert began, singularly enough, with a performance of the famous Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K.545  – performed the way many of us tried in vain to play as piano students (and many a long-suffering teacher wished we had).

The flash of liquid scales in the opening Allegro, the finely expressive playing in the ensuing Andante, and a sense of playfulness that came with a hint of drama in the final Rondo – it all sounded so wonderfully intimate coming from the splendid fortepiano lent for the occasion by the University of Calgary.

“I’ve never played on a fortepiano before,” Parker told us from the stage immediately after he had finished playing the piece – much to our astonishment and amusement. Furthermore, he added, “I’ve actually never played that sonata before. I must be the only pianist who never played it as a kid.”

Next came the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Major (K.40) whose three movements, written when Mozart was 11, were based on thematic material borrowed from as many composers of the day.

“It’s remarkable that it comes from somebody that young,” said Parker, before taking his place at the keyboard – of a concert grand, this time.

A spirited little compendium of light and shading, Parker’s committed performance, with the sympathetic support of the CPO under music director Roberto Minczuk, made the most of the material, without a trace of condescension, or of anything cursory in the approach taken to the piece.

If we hadn’t already known the work was by Mozart, would we have guessed?

Undoubtedly, from some of the key progressions, for example, the musical figurations, and the sudden (albeit brief in this piece) shifts in mood – all pre-figuring the later Mozart we’re familiar with.

After the concerto and the enthusiastic response of the large crowd in attendance, we were treated to a seemingly impromptu reading of a movement from Mozart’s E-flat Major sonata K.282, a work dating from 1774 when the composer was 18.

Before sitting down again at the keyboard, Parker spoke about his relationship to the sonata – he had once upon a time programmed it often, but had not seen the sheet music in 12 years, he said – and about the conventional wisdom that we never forget the music we learn early on, “but the music we learn later on, we forget more quickly.”

“I’m about to see if that’s true,” he said, and launched into a beautifully articulated account of the movement.

The second half of the concert kicked off with what is arguably the most universally recognized piece in the Mozart canon – the serenade for strings known as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”).

It was a well-shaped performance that had the orchestra’s upper strings on their feet (literally), if not their toes. Maestro Minczuk took a vigorous approach to the work’s four movements, opting for tempos that kept things moving right along through to the conclusion of the sunny finale, without sacrificing dynamic subtlety and detail.

Thursday’s Mozart Festival celebration finished on a particularly strong note – with the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K.595, written in the last year of Mozart’s life (1791) and premiered at a concert that was to represent the ailing composer’s last public appearance.

Prior to playing it, Parker explained that because Mozart had increasingly favoured the woodwind section in the scoring of his piano concertos, it was deemed appropriate by Maestro Minczuk to move the CPO winds to the front of the orchestra (beside the double basses) for the No. 27.

It proved an inspired move, especially given that the orchestra’s wind players are as good as they are – which they proved again on Thursday.

After pointing out that musicians have generally settled on “resolved and serene” as an apt description of Mozart’s final work for piano and orchestra, Parker sat down and proceeded to show why. There was a sense of immediacy to his interpretation, and at times, dialogue – perfectly balanced by Maestro Minczuk’s impeccable choices of tempo – that made Mozart’s music seem, well, compellingly and urgently personal, in a way.

In the solo passages, above all, Parker was able to draw impressively on Mozart’s uncanny ability in the later concertos to make major keys sound almost minor in their profound emotional effect on the listener.

To hear such things was a glorious, heartwarming experience for all present.


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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