Mozart Headlines LA Phil’s New Season

By Truman C. Wang

Clarinetist Martin Fröst

Clarinetist Martin Fröst

The Los Angeles Philharmonic launched its 99th year and 2017/18 season with the Mozart1791 Project, featuring performances and lectures of the major late works.  The words “major” and “late” must be emphasized, as the first few months of 1791, shockingly, saw almost no major works from Mozart, only light easy-listening dance music reflecting the Viennese bourgeoisie’s changing tastes but for which Mozart was very well paid (“Too much for what I did, not enough for what I could do.”)  In stark contrast, the late, great, works – except for The Magic Flute -- generated little or no income for Mozart.

The Clarinet Concerto K.622 was written as a labor of love for his friend/fellow Mason Anton Stadler during the one-week period (10/1-10/7) between the premiere of The Magic Flute and the writing of the Requiem.  The original version for ‘a basset-horn-like instrument in A with an extended downward compass’ has not survived.   In this concert, Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst shows his wizardry on the instrument, managing some impressive long-breathed phrases including an impossibly long one, across a wide dynamic range, at the end of the Adagio.  Apart from his technical mastery, Mr. Fröst also impresses with the depth and feeling of his playing, imitating as best he could that greatest of all instruments – the human voice.  The LA Phil under Gustavo Dudamel produce some ravishing sounds from the strings and the wonderful autumnal glow of Mozart’s late score. 

The Magic Flute K.620 was mostly completed in mid-July but did not start rehearsal until mid-September after Mozart’s Prague trip.  The overture and March of the Priests were added during the final dress on 9/28.  It was the greatest operatic success of Mozart’s life and the best of times for Mozart, soon to be followed in two months by the worst of times – the single greatest tragedy in the history of music.

But for the Mozart1791 Project, we are celebrating Mozart’s life and works.  LA Phil assembled a fun, bubbly young cast for The Magic Flute highlights, condensing the Singspiel comedy, sans dialog, into 50 minutes.  My only gripe with the selections was the inevitable omission of the choral jubilation to the end of Tamino-Pamina’s trial through water and fire (the climax of Act II).  Soprano Julia Bullock is a sensitive and sensible Pamina.  Baritone Elliot Madore and soprano Vanessa Becerra make a perfect match as Papageno-Papagena.   Jessica Pratt’s Queen of the Night disappoints in the trill department but impresses with her easy flights of coloratura and a rich, soprano-lirico voice.  As Tamino, tenor Paul Appleby gives the finest singing of the cast, filling the Portrait aria ‘Dies Bildnis’ with poetic ardor and attacking the high notes with the slancio of a great Italian tenor.   Last but not least, the Three Boys are charmingly sung by Enzo Grappone, Jack Fagan and Brandon Takahashi, who steal every scene they are in.   Maestro Dudamel and the LA Phil provide excellent support and exciting, brisk tempos, adding to the bubbly fun of the proceedings.

The concert will be repeated on October 6, 7 and 8. 

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.