Ever since I first heard pianist Misha Dichter in a Beethoven concerto-- if memory serves, the G major a few years ago at Aspen-- I have thought his Beethoven playing a more than a little Mozartean.
So it was interesting to finally hear him in one of that composer's concertos Friday at Abravanel Hall, in this case the Piano concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467. And to discover that, with two exceptions-- namely, the pianist's own Beethovenian cadenzas-- his Mozart playing is even more so.Obviously that's not a bad thing, especially with a conductor as classically inclined as the Utah Symphony's Joseph Silverstein.
But even though he could be seen getting the tempo into his fingers as early as the firmly paced orchestral introduction, it was Dichter who dominated this performance. Yet he did so with playing that was never loud, never forced and never showy for its own sake, even amid the brilliant passagework of the outer movements.
Which is to say that even in the more rapid sections his tone was contained, his articulation controlled and his artistry always at the service of the music. So much so that even at his most subdued he was not afraid to get beneath its outwardly cheery exterior and expose some of the shadows that lurk here as surely as in any Mozart concerto.
That was most evident in the airy suspension of the slow movement (still remembered from the movie "Elvira Madigan"), with its almost otherworldly sense of remove. For here the exquisite high-strings-above-low-string-triplets effect of the opening was reflected not only in the piano writing but in Dichter's playing. And he exhibited the same sense of proportion amid the disciplined bravura of the concluding rondo, and that despite a faster-than-usual tempo.
As indicated, this may also have been Silverstein's finest hour. Earlier he and the orchestra opened the evening with a strongly framed byt none-too-enlivening account of Dvorak's "My Home" Overture, agreeably folkish in spots but otherwise recalling Brahms more than Dvorak.
Then after intermission they wrapped things up with Stravinsky's "Firebird" Suite-- here the 1945 version, with its additional helpings from the earlier portion of the ballet.
And though here no one was recalled more than Stravinsky, the results were often coarse and inexact.
Still, the Introduction, with its ominous low strings and growling trombones was suitably atmospheric. What's more, I'm not sure I have ever seen an audience awakened with such a start as they were at the beginning of the "Infernal Dance," here hair-raisingly ferocious if not always instrumentally on the mark.
That did not prevent the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn soloists from taking well-deserved bows. (I particularly liked bassoonist Douglas Craig's darkly subdued playing in the "Berceuse.") And with its slow build to the climax and strongly registered tuba punctuations, the Finale certainly had an impact.
I just wouldn't have minded a little more magic.