Boccherini, Schubert, Mozart, Françaix
The Wiener Virtuosen, musicians from the Philharmonic, brought playful chamber music surrounding moodier songs to the Musikverein’s small Brahms Hall this evening.
Luigi Boccherini‘s Pastorale, Grave, e Fandango established a pleasant atmosphere, one dance-like melody building on the next, until reaching the fadango, when Boccherini let loose to have the chamber ensemble imitate a baroque guitar, moving the plucking and the thumping and the riffs from one instrument to the next. The audience practically jumped out of its seats to dance along. Pass the castinets!
Luca Pisaroni, a protege (and subsequently also son-in-law) of Thomas Hampson joined the ensemble for a series of songs by Franz Schubert, orchestrated variously by Johannes Brahms, Anton von Webern, Max Reger, and Felix Mottl. The orchestrations served to add extra warmth and color to the music, in ways that a piano could not do, drawing out the emotion further, especially considering Pisaroni’s own voice was full and round, amply supported by a deep baritone. While Pisaroni did not necessarily wear all of his emotions on his sleeve (in contrast, say, to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the master of this Fach), these settings allowed the songs to speak clearly for themselves: Memnon, Ihr Bild, An die Musik, Der Tod und das Mädchen, An Schwager Kronos, Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen, and finally Erlkönig.
While Pisaroni did have a gorgeous deep baritone, his voice unfortunately did bottom out, lacking a true bass. This became exposed in the second half of the concert with songs composed by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart for bass vocalist: Mentre ti lascio, o figlia, Così dunque tradisci… aspri rimorsi atroci (written for the bass who premiered the role of Osmin in Entführung), and Per questa bella mano (written for the bass who premiered Sarastro in Zauberflöte). The baritone registers were fine – the bass not so much (Pisaroni hit the deep notes, just weakly). More Schubert might have helped. Nevertheless, he displayed the talent and presence that had attracted Hampson’s attention – and Hampson’s Liederabende are always elegant affairs.
The concert concluded with a more peculiar work by Jean Françaix, a French composer who obviously drew inspiration from Vienna for his Octet for Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, two Violins, Viola, Cello, and Bass (premiered in this hall in 1972). The program notes said the composer had sought to update Schubert in a modern idiom. I honestly heard very little Schubert, but little Viennese lilts did appear throughout, especially the parodies of Viennese waltzes in the fourth movement. And while the jokes hit home with this Viennese audience, it was just amusement without much substance. Another bookend for the Boccherini perhaps, but not at the same level.