By Lawrence Budmen

The 19th century is often referred to as the age of romanticism in the arts. Romantic musical impulses however, were evident before that era. The "Concerto No. 24 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra", K.491 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composed in 1786. This score is highly romantic music.

While Mozart follows the form of the classical concerto, he has written dark, highly charged melodies and complex harmonies that change the nature of the concerto. The passionate orchestral outbursts and highly expressive piano writing call to mind Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto of 1803, also in C Minor. Beethoven greatly admired Mozart's concerto and wrote that it could not be surpassed.

Pianist Michele Levin played Mozart's C Minor Concerto with the Miami Chamber Symphony on April 2, 2002 at the Gusman Concert Hall on the University of Miami campus. Ms. Levin is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied with the great pianist Rudolf Serkin. She has often been heard as a chamber music performer in Miami but this was a rare appearance as a soloist.

All of the qualities that have made Ms. Levin an admirable chamber player were on display - musicality, respect for the score, and command of the instrument. To these were added a creative musical imagination and passionate intensity. In the opening Allegro, she caught the elegiac melancholy that pervades the entire score. The Larghetto emerged as the songful operatic area that it is. (The long cantabile line of this movement is similar to the aria "Dove Sono" in "The Marriage of Figaro", which Mozart also wrote in 1786.) The rhythmic lift that Ms. Levin brought to the finale was particularly striking. Here she brought a new virtuosity to Mozart's storm tossed piano - orchestra exchanges. Throughout the performance, Ms. Levin displayed musical subtlety and taste. She played with a sure sense of this concerto's romantic autumnal glow. She also wrote the expressive, imaginative cadenzas. (Ms. Levin is also a composer.)

Unfortunately, the important dialog between piano and orchestra that is a hallmark of Mozart's concertos was shortchanged. Conductor Burton Dines led a sometimes sluggish performance. The orchestral playing was often ragged; the solo oboe suffered from poor intonation. Too much of Mozart's orchestral writing was blurred.

Michele Levin also performed the piano part in Sergei Prokofiev's "Overture on Hebrew Themes", Opus 34. This score exists in three versions - one for clarinet and piano; another for clarinet, piano and string quartet; and one for full orchestra. Dines opted for the string quartet version, but doubled all the parts and used a full string section. Whichever edition is used, this Prokofiev score is a gem. The Klezmer inspired melodies are irresistible. The string writing has a wonderful transparency. This is music that is both original and populist in nature. Richard Hancock played the wild clarinet riffs splendidly.

Edvard Grieg's "Holberg Suite for Strings", Opus 40 is one of the Norwegian composer's most charming musical vignettes. Grieg has taken a series of court dances (as J.S. Bach used in his orchestral suites) and added the sound of country fiddlers, giving the music a decidedly nationalistic touch. The melodic writing is lovely and inspired. Dines and the Miami Chamber Symphony strings gave a capable, if not always precise, performance. There were particularly distinguished solo contributions by concertmaster Leonid Segal and principal cellist Ross Harbaugh. Grieg's delightful string writing made a wonderful sound in the warm, clear Gusman Hall acoustics. 

Edvard Grieg was a 19th century romantic composer. Yet it was the 18th century Mozart whose concerto was the truly romantic, passionate musical utterance on this program. Most importantly, the concerto was played by Michele Levin, a true artist who puts the music before pianistic self display. We need to hear her more often in solo concerts.

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