Elisa Barston shines in Mozart “Turkish” Concerto

By Peter A. Klein

Elisa Barston, the Seattle Symphony’s principal second violinist, was the featured soloist in three all-Mozart concerts this past weekend. With everything else going on in town, Benaroya Hall was not full, but still comfortably well-populated on Saturday evening. Those in attendance were treated to some fine playing, with Music Director Gerard Schwarz’ many years as a Mozart conductor informing the proceedings.

Barston gave a lovely rendition of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A. This was not a performance where the soloist imposed a personal (usually Romantic) conception upon a Classical-period work. Barston played with a silvery tone and graceful elegance, every note and ornament perfectly placed—and within those boundaries, expressiveness aplenty. It was an exquisite piece of music-making, at one with the spirit of the composer in every way.

The minor-key “Turkish” section of the final Rondo movement—from which the piece gets its nickname—allowed Barston to do a bit of more gutsy playing, punctuated by percussive col legno effects from the cellos, striking their strings with the wood of their bows.

The concerto ends not with a big bravura finish, but with a genial little musical wink—an ascending broken chord spiced with grace notes, which Barston drew out just slightly, to delicious effect. It was almost as if Mozart was saying to us, “Wasn’t that nice? I hope you enjoyed it.”

Yes, we did. The audience rose in a standing ovation. While that happens almost routinely in Seattle, in this case it was very much deserved. Brava.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in D opened the concert. This was less successful, due to some shaky ensemble in the first movement, sometimes overpowering horns, and the overly breakneck pace of the final movement. The latter was exciting, but I would have preferred a little less excitement and some cleaner articulation.

After intermission came the Serenade No. 9 in D, nicknamed “Posthorn” because it contains a solo for the valveless brass instrument that signaled the arrival of the mail coach in Mozart’s time. The work’s seven movements encompass everything from grand symphonic scoring to passages of a more intimate chamber music character, from polished elegance to occasional drama that foreshadows Don Giovanni. And throughout, a feast of delectable woodwind writing.

The orchestra was in fine form for the Serenade, particularly the winds. Kudos to guest soloists Robin Peery (flute), Wendy Wilhelmi (piccolo), and Tony DiLorenzo, who played the posthorn solo on the genuine article. And a special nod to Associate Concertmaster Emma McGrath for the beautifully-played violin solos.

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