Conductor Stefan Sanderling and the Toledo Symphony presented last night yet another chapter in their ongoing telling of the history of the Viennese classicists. The program at the Franciscan Theatre and Conference Center featured all three of the period's masters: Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.
One could say Sanderling unfairly spotlights the 18th-century culture at the expense of other equally vibrant times and places. But one cannot complain about the quality of the orchestra's performances, which offer increasingly confident and focused interpretations.
Since his first Toledo appearance four years ago, the hallmark of his performances has been their accessibility. We Americans tend to look to Vienna's masters through a telescope that both enlarges their figures and flattens their human qualities.
Sanderling, by contrast, treats these figures as if they might live just down the block from us. As the son of Kurt Sanderling, one of Europe's greatest conductors, one might expect Stefan to bring a sort of grim-faced Old World haughtiness to the podium. Not so. He bobs and weaves, almost dances his way through interpretations that are invariably filled with motion and warmth.
The program opened with Mozart's ebullient Symphony No. 26 in E-flat Major, written when the composer was just 17. The piece opens with a ha-ha-ha in the strings and closes with a hearty finale. The symphony is a delight, but at under 10 minutes long, a brief one. To our modern ears, used to works of greater size and weight, the music ends almost before it gets under way.
Clean-toned cellist Mark Kosower gave an elegant and nimble-fingered reading of Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major not only closed the night, but vindicated Sanderling's Viennese focus. His plan has been to get his musicians to fully digest the Classical tradition. Success seems near: Strings played with wonderful precision. Balance between orchestral voices was illuminating. Melodies waved with motion and color. It was a remarkable performance from this increasingly astute orchestra.
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