Were Gallup sent out to poll the American public on the musical instrument most capable of the same expressivity as the human voice, bassoon probably would not place near the top. "What instrument is that?" asked my young but by no means green seat mate Thursday night after the Philadelphia Orchestra sent its principal bassoonist out for a rare star turn on the stage of Verizon Hall.
Mozart, though, recognized the instrument as nothing less than operatic in the second movement of his Concerto for Bassoon, K. 191, played by Daniel Matsukawa in this all-Mozart program. The movement's main melody invites the double reed to slip into character, with all the sweet yearning and loving breath of Ferrando (Cosi fan tutte). Matsukawa only partially exploited the dramatic potential.
These concerto outings for orchestra members are a chance for the audience to get to know players better and for players to stretch, and Matsukawa is a fine ensemble member. He blends well within the section, and his beautiful, soft-tongued articulation combines with a refined sound to emit both warmth and grace. But he is a conservative player, and in places where you might have hoped for greater imagination and risk-taking – the cadenza work, for instance – he would go only so far.
Similarly pleasant if not always thought-provoking sensations emanated from the podium, where Mozart specialist Jane Glover led the concerto plus two Mozart symphonies – his last, and what is believed to be his first, composed at the age of 8. The Symphony No. 1, K. 16, is bright and earnest, often repetitive, but with glints of the experimental. The building-block motif of the second movement, modest use of dissonance, and unusual juxtaposition of rhythmic cells were ideas you knew he would manipulate later, hence Glover's delivery of the No. 41, K. 551, "Jupiter."
The British-born conductor, making her subscription-concert debut here, rescaled some dynamics, favored moderate tempos, and, in the last movement, generated some heat. When the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg visited the Kimmel a few weeks ago, they brought this piece a lithe, early-music sound, while American orchestras for years used their modern, big-shouldered personalities to advance the idea of it as an imposing apotheosis of the classical era. Glover found a satisfying middle ground, keeping the size of the ensemble moderate, but the character grand.