Mozart 2-Prokofiev 1. At its Sunday afternoon concert at Merrill Auditorium, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, under Robert Moody and concert master Charles Dimmick, demonstrated that there’s no substitute for the real thing. 

There were outstanding performances of the Mozart Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, No. 3 in G Major (K. 216), with Dimmick as soloist and conductor, and the great Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major (K. 543) and a not-so-outstanding rendition of Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, No. 1, Op. 25.

The Prokofiev Symphony in the style of Haydn, which began the program, is a masterpiece in its own right, but it suffered Sunday from over-analysis. There was an admirable effort to delineate the individual parts that make up Prokofiev’s complex symphonic texture, but it detracted from the ensemble the symphony requires to make its sardonic points. The audience should not be able to see what the magician is doing, just be aware that something is not quite right. 

The final movement is a test of any orchestra’s cohesiveness. The PSO held together even at breakneck speed.

Classical orchestras might have been onto something in having the soloist also serve as conductor, as Dimmick did in the “Strassburg” Violin Concerto. The connection between the orchestra and the solo violin was seamless and intimate.

As a soloist, Dimmick can do virtually everything, from a clear, singing tone in the adagio to virtuoso double-stops in the well-thought-out cadenzas. He isn’t bad as a conductor, either. Sometimes in soloist-as-conductor performances the conducting part is perfunctory. Not in this case.

As an example, the transition from cadenza to tutti in the final Rondo:Allegro was masterful, and something that I’m not sure could be executed without the elimination of the middleman.

Moody, however, demonstrated next what a conductor can achieve, in a dazzling rendition of the Symphony No. 39 that was a delight from beginning to end. I was surprised to see Dimmick return as concertmaster after the workout in the concerto, but I imagine that he didn’t want to miss  this performance, which was as good as anything I’ve heard from the orchestra.

A live performance of this work demonstrates just how much it influenced Mozart’s musical heirs, from the Beethoven “V” motif to Schubert’s repetition and transformation of a long-limbed theme (in the final Allegro). Its lessons weren’t lost on Prokofiev, either. One resemblance that surprised me was that of the opening adagio to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”). No one thinks of Mozart as a nature-lover, but there it is.


Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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