Reverential airs open the Mozart Festival

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By David Hendricks

January 6, 2017

Someone once observed that Ludwig van Beethoven’s music struggled mightily to reach the mountaintop only to find that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music already was there.

On Friday night, the San Antonio Symphony launched the two-month citywide Mozart Festival with a strong nod to two of the composer’s most exalted pieces at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The concert paired Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and his short choral motet, Ave verum corpus, with the mood underscored by another celestial masterpiece, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

The best parts of the Mozart symphony may be the simplest ones. The second-movement andante, for example, sounded like a processional that starts, stops and then re-enters repeatedly, each time with a twist that added elegance and majesty, even with some dissonance among the strings and woodwinds.

Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing delivered a highly thought out interpretation that favored brisk tempos. He balanced grace and lightness with an undercurrent of emotional drama from a smaller-than-average orchestra that sounded bigger than it looked, thanks to the hall’s excellent acoustics.

The Fauré Requiem, known for its peaceful, consoling approach rather than theatrical wrath and fear in other requiems, came off splendidly. Its hushed, ravishing melodies unfolded to hover in the air over the audience of about 1,200 people.

Soprano Deanna Breiwick delivered the Pie Jesu solo with unusual purity and serene tranquility. Baritone Morgan Smith answered with the Libera me, which added the Requiem’s only sense of urgency.

The organ was performed by Vivienne Spy, blending well with the orchestra and the always well-prepared Mastersingers. Lang-Lessing turned on the podium to direct the angelic Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, stationed in a balcony suite, for the blissful concluding section, In paradisum.

The concert opened with the otherworldly beauty of the 46-measure Ave verum corpus with the Mastersingers and orchestra, a perfect gesture to launch any Mozart festival.

Friday’s program repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Tobin Center downtown. The symphony presents its first of three Mozart at the Cathedral concerts at 7 p.m. Sunday at San Fernando Cathedral. The symphony’s Mozart Festival continues at 8 p.m. Jan. 13-14 with music of Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn at the Tobin Center.