Performance Review: Mozart, Brahms & Schumann
The Jacksonville Symphony’s Florida Blue Classical Series presented “Mozart, Brahms & Schumann” this weekend, a generous and approachable program of three Austro-Germanic masterpieces under the baton of Music Director Courtney Lewis.
Overture, Scherzo & Finale, Op. 52 by Robert Schumann
Kicking off the evening was Robert Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo & Finale. Essentially a symphony in all but name, this rarely programmed work reveals Schumann’s melodic genius in every bar, and Courtney Lewis and the musicians shaped the phrases with sensitivity and poise. There were some particularly affecting solo passages by the woodwinds, especially the clarinet and oboe. Another defining characteristic of Schumann’s orchestral style is driving rhythms, here most prominently on display in the Scherzo and Finale movements. The Jacksonville Symphony maintained tight control and balance throughout, and Courtney Lewis took tempos that were forward-moving but never rushed. After the final movement concluded with its wonderful, hymn-like melodic peroration, one had to wonder why this work doesn’t get much more exposure on symphonic programs.
Interested in learning more? Explore a full set of Program Notes.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Second on the concert was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Easily one of the most well-known and frequently performed symphonies in the standard orchestral canon, Courtney Lewis prefaced the performance by encouraging the audience to listen to the piece with fresh ears and to try to find something new or that they may not have noticed before. From the opening bars, it was clear the orchestra’s musicians had taken this suggestion to heart. There was no sense of complacency, and they played with a commitment and vigor that breathed fresh life into this beloved score. The strings were particularly noteworthy throughout as they combined clear intonation with shimmering virtuosity, keeping the often-dense orchestral counterpoint crystal clear in even the thorniest passages.
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102 by Johannes Brahms
Rounding out the program was the Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor by Johannes Brahms, featuring guest artists Simone Porter on violin and Joshua Roman on cello. From the opening cello recitative, Roman’s intonation was absolutely impeccable, and his ability to project, even in the quietest passages, was remarkable. Simone Porter quickly proved to be an equal partner, and the aspect of her playing that most struck me was her keen melodic sense, so vital to Brahms. The standout aspect of this performance for me was the perfect cohesion and unity, both technically and aesthetically, between the two soloists. These two musicians truly played as one, keeping a keen eye on each other and communicating in a way that brought new insight into the musical rhetoric Brahms created between the violin and cello. This cohesion extended to Courtney Lewis and the entire Symphony, whose sensitive response to the soloists resulted in a performance of rare musical integrity. The sublimely lyrical second movement was for me the highlight of the performance, and indeed the entire concert, and the rollicking final movement wrapped up the evening with a verve and buoyancy that brought the audience joyfully to its feet.
A wonderfully programmed concert, “Mozart, Brahms & Schumann” offered three lyrical orchestral masterpieces performed with a refined level of insight and imagination. The works complimented each other very well and provided a canvas upon which both the Symphony and the guest soloists displayed music making at its finest.
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 the classical music reviewer.
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Interested in joining the Jacksonville Symphony for another innovative and engaging season? Please visit our 2022/23 Season page to learn more about the upcoming season programming or visit our 2023/24 Season page to learn more about next season’s programming. Additional content for this performance includes a full set of Program Notes. Looking for more content? Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to watch concert archives, interviews, behind the scenes content and more.
The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Mozart, Brahms & Schumann.