Play It, and They Will Know

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The New York Sun

Mozart mania continued at Lincoln Center, with the arrival of Gidon Kremer. This Latvian violinist is one of the most valuable musicians we have: brainy, devoted, occasionally a little severe. He played Mozart’s five violin concertos, over two concerts — Sunday afternoon and last night.

Accompanying him was the chamber orchestra he founded 10 years ago: the Kremerata Baltica. Even though it’s been a decade, I have not quite gotten over the cutesiness of that name. Anyway, the orchestra consists of young musicians from the Baltic states. But I noticed, in the roster, at least two ringers: true-blue American flutists. Let’s hope flutists from Tallinn never find out.

You could play all five Mozart concertos on one concert.But it’s much wiser to take two concerts, supplementing the concertos with other material. And that’s what Mr. Kremer did.

Sunday’s concert featured three of the concertos, Nos.1-3 (in B flat, D,and G, respectively). Acting as garnishes were pieces by Schnittke and Mark Nyman.

Mr. Kremer is a champion of Schnittke, and one of the best concerto performances in New York last season was of a Schnittke work, brought to us by Mr. Kremer and the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Mikko Franck. On Sunday, Mr. Kremer played a piece called “Congratulatory Rondo.”Whom was Schnittke congratulating? A violinist colleague, Rostislav Dubinsky, who had turned 50. (The year was 1974.) This is a work in the Mozart style, basically, although it has Schnittkean touches.

Our soloist went at it cagily, with special mastery over rhythm. The simple, unaccompanied ending was nice. And, behind Mr. Kremer, the Kremerata Baltica sounded lush. That, too, was nice.

Michael Nyman is an English composer, working in minimalism, who has made his name in film music. In 1988, he wrote the score for “Drowning by Numbers,” of which we heard a section, “Trysting Fields.” Mr. Nyman based this music on the middle movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. Like that masterpiece, “Trysting Fields” calls for violin, viola, and orchestra.

It is a composition of considerable beauty, which gathers momentum passionately. I wish it had a proper ending, however, certainly for concert performance: It cuts off mid-phrase. In any case, Mr. Kremer was joined in the spotlight by a violist from his group, Daniil Grishin, whose tone was rich and whose playing was duly heartfelt.

Now to the concertos: You don’t go to Mr. Kremer for great beauty of sound, and he did not provide such sound Sunday. Neither did he play with great polish, tonal or otherwise. I might say, too, that Mozart’s slow movements could have done with more lyricism, more singing. Also, Mr. Kremer did a strange thing technically: He let his bow bounce off the strings in certain passagework, creating an odd shuddering effect.

And yet Mr. Kremer is always an interesting violinist, and he was interesting in the concertos. He was not on Mozart autopilot; he let almost every phrase count, have meaning. And yet he did not veer off into eccentricity.

To cite just a couple of movements, from the nine of these concertos: The slow movement of the B-flat concerto, though it may not have sung perfectly, breathed beautifully. And who could separate breathing from singing? And the closing movement of that concerto was fun, particularly its cadenza. All of the cadenzas Mr. Kremer used, incidentally, were fashioned by the Mozart expert Robert D. Levin.

As for the Kremerata Baltica, it was often a little loose, but managed not to break apart. And Mr. Kremer pretty much never conducted them, simply concentrating on his own part. I hope it won’t strike you as grossly uncool to say that I had the following thought during the concert: It would be a pleasure to hear Mr. Kremer play the Mozart violin concertos with a top-notch symphony orchestra and a top-notch conductor.

There was a Mozart bonus I neglected to mention before: the program ended with the Serenata Notturna, which uses a string quartet — two violins, a viola, and a double bass — against the orchestra. In this piece, the orchestra did its most alert and attuned playing of the entire afternoon. And you may wish to know that Mr. Kremer allowed a young charge of his, Dzeraldas Bidva, to take the primary violin part.

In the course of the serenade, musicians from both the quartet and the orchestra surprised us with interpolations, including jazz riffs. Well and good. But I have a piece of advice for these players: You don’t have to move your head stereotypically to show the audience that you’re playing jazz. If you simply play it, they will know it.

The audience was wildly appreciative, as these audiences have been all festival long. Mr. Kremer et al. gave them a couple of encores. The first was for orchestra alone: They played some of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” interspersed with British songs such as “Weel May the Keel Row” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Please don’t ask me to explain; I’m just reporting.

Then Mr. Kremer came back out to lay on “Moonlight Serenade.” Never he has played more lyrically, more beautifully. And his musicians hummed in close harmony, at the end — real nice.

Mostly Mozart Festival through August 26 (Lincoln Center, 212-721-6500).

The New York Sun

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