Raymond Leppard is 89. He has been the ISO's conductor laureate since 2001 when he retired after serving 14 years as the orchestra's music director. After being invited to return to conduct one of the orchestra's classical concerts, Leppard spent months choosing a program as apropos to his nature as possible. What emerged was three Mozart works from three of the Salzburg master's genres, Cockaigne (overture) Op. 40 ("In London Town") by Sir Edward Elgar and--for added measure--three songs by Elgar's contemporary, Henri Duparc (1843-1933). Soprano Rachele Gilmore joined the orchestra for the Duparc and one of the Mozart selections.
Just before Leppard's opening the program with the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), he was assisted onstage to the podium by two players where he sat and conducted on a high stool. The Figaro Overture rates as one of Mozart's most famous short pieces, not to mention that it is one of his three greatest overtures. Though adopting a measured tempo, Leppard, true to form, observed all the phrase breaks subtly enough to avoid any choppiness. His control of the dynamic nuances was nearly perfect.
Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, beginning at age 9 and ending at age 32 (three years before his death). His final four symphonies are undisputed masterpieces, easily vying with Beethoven's first eight. Mozart's first 30 are topped by No. 29--K. 201/186a--a light, lyric masterwork--with "beautiful" being ascribed to its slow (Andante) movement. Once again we heard our laureate conductor articulate the phrases in the first two movements to perfection. The third movement, normally a minuet, is here largely constructed as a dotted rhythm -- with shorter phrases. Leppard, once again, managed a nuanced flow, both dynamic and temporal.
Gilmore, Leppard and the orchestra then collaborated in Mozart's most famous motet Exultate Jubilate, K. 165, written when he 18 and usually regarded as his finest work up to that time. Our soprano delivered a rich, well controlled, evenly centered voice, in her lower and middle ranges. In her tessitura and coloratura ranges she evinced a slight warbling on sustained notes. Her vocalism continued in that manner in the Duparc songs: L'Invitation au Voyage, Au Pays ou se fait la guerre and Phydelé.
Before conducting Cockaigne, Leppard spoke to the audience, telling us that the term represents a district in London and is related to the word "Cockney." Elgar's overture contains much discursive writing which I find difficult to latch onto. Written in 1900, just a year after his more famous Enigma Variations, Elgar takes many notes to decide that we are hearing a wistful valedictory. Perhaps to appreciate Cockaigne to the full would have required my being born and raised . . . in Cockney?? Oct. 28