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Ever since Robert Schumann proclaimed Felix Mendelssohn as “the Mozart of the Nineteenth Century,” it has seemed entirely natural to program the music of these two composers side by side. Too often, however, Mendelssohn’s mellifluous ease is overshadowed by Mozart’s quicksilver psychological complexity, but Mainly Mozart Music Director Michael Francis put Mendelssohn in the driver’s seat at Wednesday’s (June 10) Festival Orchestra concert at the Balboa with a masterful account of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony.

Benjamin Beilman [photo (c) Christian Steiner]

Benjamin Beilman [photo (c) Christian Steiner]

From the opening phrases, the Fourth Symphony (called the “Italian,” since he wrote this work following an extended visit to Italy) exploded with buoyant bursts whose energy never dissipated. Francis drew a silken, integrated ensemble from the strings, to which the winds added luminescent colors to balance the composer’s elegant musical equation. Because Francis deftly shaped the work’s dynamic trajectory, myriad details glossed over by typical symphonic accounts—with their massive string sections—came vividly to life.

Frankly, I have never been so completely enchanted by the “Spring” Symphony and now see it from a completely different perspective.

Some details to cherish: the low strings’ haunting bass line that propelled the religious procession depicted in the second movement; the sleek, well-tuned horn fanfares of the third movement; Principal Oboe Nathan Hughes’ glistening solos throughout the symphony, and the flutes’ delirious fluttering motifs in the closing movement.

Looking even younger than his 25 years, American violinist Benjamin Beilman seemed to conjure Cherubino, one of Mozart’s iconic operatic creations of smitten youth, as he swooned his way through Mozart’s G Major Violin Concerto, K. 216. Projecting a polished, even opulent tone, this Cherubino of the violin seemed enamored of his own voluptuous melodic effusions rather than the charms of the fair sex.

Beilman’s technical prowess was evident at every turn, even though Mozart did not fill his concerto with virtuoso pyrotechnics, something we know he disdained from letters written to his father. Instead, he gave the soloist gorgeous and often ornate operatic lines, which Beilman communicated with appropriate passion and flare. I was particularly taken with his ebullient characterization of the finale’s rondo theme and his spirited dialogues with the first chair woodwind players. He is definitely a rising violinist to watch.

Francis opened this concert with Mozart’s “Serenata Notturna,” K. 239, a lively, humorous work for strings and timpani that was written as an entertainment for the raucous Carnival festivities that preceded the deprivations of Lent. Each soloist—violinists William Preucil and Jun Iwasaki, violist Che-Yen Chen, bassist Timothy Pitts, and timpanist Ryan DiLisi—had ample opportunity to show off and to express their “boredom” while their colleagues took their solo turns, antics that the Balboa audience clearly appreciated.

Fortunately, the humorous moments did not compromise the polish of the rest of the Serenata, and I will long remember the fanciful interactions between timpanist DiLisi and the pizzicato violins in the opening movement. It was refreshing to hear the timpanist be asked to do something more refined than goading the brass choirs to even louder climactic flourishes.

Would that the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni had been as carefully prepared as the rest of the program. Its dark opening did not sound the least bit ominous, and the livlier sections bordered on perfunctory.

[themify_box style=”shadow” ]This concert was performed on June 10, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. at the Balboa Theatre. Three 2015 Festival Orchestra programs remain: March 13, March 17 and March 20, 2015, at the same venue.

Tickets: (619) 466-8742; www.mainlymozart.org [/themify_box]

Mainly Mozart Program

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Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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