Reviews ...

Montanus honors Mozart in Melrose

... musically speaking, Melrose is in fine fettle.

by Jackie Wattenberg

We may lack a college, our city government has endured economic cuts, and gasoline prices are still zooming.

But musically speaking, Melrose is in fine fettle.

We have our own symphony orchestra, our own choral society -- and then there is John Montanus, superb pianist and musicologist. On Sunday afternoon (April 30th) he presented a lovely program on the 250th birthday of the great Mozart, held in the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church, whose members are lucky to hear the pianist performing fine music as organist-pianist-choir conductor every Sunday.

Tragic though it is that Mozart died at just 35, he began composing at a young age and left a heavy legacy. Our own "American Mozart," George Gershwin, lived a few years longer but had just begun interest in opera and concertos, "Porgy and Bess," enticing us to want so much more in his new and compelling style.

Montanus opened the program by relating bits and pieces about Mozart's life and his family, assuring us through such awareness as the sensitive letter he wrote to his father at the death of his mother that he was not the "idiot" pictured in the movie "Amadeus." Montanus is a fount of information about most composers, as well as on many other subjects.

The program circled mostly around Mozart's vocal music, popular operatic arias sung by our own area singers, and a stunning "Recitative and Area, K. 490," that brought the fine young violinist Lino Tanaka in with the pianist, and soprano Denise Konicek. Ms. Konicek has an amazing range, dancing into coloratura heights with unquestioned ease and brightness. The congenial phrasing of the three made this challenging work impressive.

The sole male singer, Cliff Liberman, invested great Mozart style into two arias from "The Marriage of Figaro" -- "Sevuol Ballare" and "Non Piu Andrai," putting them over with a nice sense of fun and robust dark tones that never veer from the voice's attractive quality.

In a expressive song, "Als Luise die Brefe," Regina Lucas displayed her full, dark, cream-smooth tones and easeful command of the music's style. She joined another soprano, Barbara Finegan, in a duet, "Sull'Aria," from "The Marriage of Figaro," that was charmingly dramatic. Ms. Finegan also performed a solo, a more infrequently-heard part of the "Exultate Jubilato," containing the "Alleluia," that turned out to be interesting too, sung in her warmly resonant tones and sense of energy.

In what Mr. Montamus said was her first concert appearance, Victoria Shubert sang two arias -- "Vedrai Carino" from "Don Giovanni," and "Un Moto di Giois" from "The Marriage of Figaro." She has a voice of gracefulness and consistent quality, and she conveyed the arias' dramatic messages with ease and charm.

After his confident accompanying chores, Mr. Montanus played a solo in contrast with the mostly frivolous arias, the "Adagion in B Minor." With his usual sensitivity, he conveyed the reflective, almost melancholy mood of this piece. We would have enjoyed his playing with the violinist -- a scheduled violin sonata -- but a virus last week prevented his working on it for performance.

A brief note for sopranos -- when scaling up for very high notes, the mouth must be kept open wide to maintain the tone's beauty of sound.

The sizable audience was appreciative. Mozart would have been pleased too.

This article is reprinted, with permission from the Melrose Free Press - May 4, 2006.

Jun 2, 2006

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