Review: Mozart’s Dream

Symphony Review, Tim Tuller

The Jacksonville Symphony’s Florida Blue Classical Series returned with “Mozart’s Dream” this weekend, a concert featuring W. A. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major bookended by two works from Czech composers Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák.

The concert began with Smetana’s well-loved Overture to “The Bartered Bride.” From the outset the strings displayed impressively strong intonation throughout the blazing torrents of notes. Music Director Courtney Lewis led with sizzling energy, and the musicians responded with passion and verve. It was a rousing beginning to a lovely evening.

Second on the program was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major featuring pianist Alessio Bax as the guest soloist. From the very first bars we were met with warm strings, crisp woodwinds, and tight cohesion among the players. As soon as the piano entered it was clear that Mr. Bax is an accomplished Mozart interpreter. He has a way of shaping phrases that is responsive to the orchestra, giving a sense of life and fresh spontaneity, which is so vital for Mozart. Every note was weighed and balanced, with no detail taken for granted. These qualities were especially apparent in the famous second movement where the seemingly simple melody was shaped with tender intimacy. It is worth noting that Mr. Bax, true to the spirit of Mozart, played one of his own cadenzas in this performance. While modern cadenzas can sometimes be rather self-indulgent or over-wrought, Mr. Bax’s cadenza was tasteful, creative, and sought to add quality musical commentary rather than just dazzle with empty virtuosity. Throughout the performance both soloist and orchestra displayed the highest levels of musicianship. All parties seemed to be in total aesthetic agreement, resulting in a performance of this piece that would be difficult to surpass.

Following a generous intermission (the first intermission there has been for a Classical Series concert since before Covid restrictions were imposed nearly two years ago now), the evening concluded with Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. As Courtney Lewis mentioned in his remarks to the audience, this symphony is often considered to be Dvořák’s finest, even though it may be performed slightly less often than his final two symphonies. This monumental work saw Courtney and the orchestra pull together all of the characteristics that had defined the evening thus far: rhythmic drive, strong intonation, tight cohesion and balance, with an added layer of gutsy brass. Dynamic range was expansive, particularly in the lush second movement. Incisive rhythms in the Bohemian dances of the third movement led seamlessly to the roiling energy of the final movement where the full unleashing of the brass combined with the rest of the orchestra for a rousing finish which saw the audience appropriately jumping to its feet.
“Mozart’s Dream” was a generous and varied concert that showcased the Jacksonville Symphony’s penchant for creative and effective programming.

Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as classical music reviewer.