Capping off their two-weekend Mozart Festival, the Dallas Symphony played three minor-key masterworks this weekend, plus one major-key selection. Music in minor keys is the exception to the Mozartian rule – only two each of the 27 piano concerti and 41 symphonies are in minor. Perhaps Mozart saved minor keys for truly extraordinary musical statements, or else perceived his audiences (or patrons) to prefer his sunnier works. In any case, those minor-key works Mozart did write tend to be special for reasons surpassing their mere scarcity.

The one major-key piece, the overture to Idomeneo, rè di Creta, got things off to a bizarre start, seeming extraneous in temperament to the rest of the program as well as problematic due to practical concerns: removing risers, reorganizing chairs, and rolling the piano into place took longer than the five minutes the overture had lasted. This isolated the overture even further from the other pieces, and made me wonder if it would have been too much of an inconvenience to leave the piano in place, and closed, during such a brief opening number.

The C minor Piano Concerto, however, was worth the wait. C minor was an especially stormy key for Mozart – not for nothing was Beethoven heavily influenced by such pieces as the Piano Sonata K. 457 – but, save for a few explosive moments in its outer movements, this concerto feels more like the calm (or rather, unease) before the tempest. Mr. Bronfman never let the angst and pathos of the piece get the better of his interpretation, conveying a sense of foreboding but rarely more. His fluid phrasing sketched a broad horizon of the work as it wore on, weaving seemingly fragmented sections of passagework into a richer narrative of organic shapes and loftier ideas. I found Mr. Bronfman’s playing especially colorful and descriptive in his own Eingänge -- the improvisatory-sounding solos linking one passage to the next at a fermata – and cadenzas, which were effective if a bit Beethovenian in rhetoric.

The Adagio and Fugue in C minor was Mozart’s arrangement for string orchestra of an earlier fugue for two pianos, plus the addition of a slow introduction. Although relying on older forms (the Baroque genres of fugue and French overture), Mozart was indeed at his most experimental. This is a work full of dissonances, jarring extremes of register, and suspenseful atmospheres, as well as contrapuntal writing that anticipates the fugues of late Beethoven in its chromaticism. Mr. van Zweden served the music well with a rich bass sound and expansive color palette, and kept order in the thorny fugue, imbuing the subject with a subtle roundness.

The printed program notes cited one musicologist’s speculation that Mozart may have been acutely depressed at the time he wrote some or all of these works, but Mr. van Zweden’s take on the Symphony No. 40 in G minor suggested the master may have suffered no worse than an episode of over-caffeination. In particular, the Minuet was taken at such a clip as to mar an otherwise extraordinary performance. The Molto allegro began with zeal, too, but it was lushly proto-Romantic and full of nervous energy, somewhere between madly in love and plain mad. The Larghetto was for me the highlight of the concert, locked into a pulse which seemed to inevitably propel the music forward, a gentle and effortless perpetual motion machine.

Pity then, that Mr. van Zweden conducted the allegretto minuet at a speed most musicians would consider presto. What I believe makes this movement special is its savagery and clumsiness, like the caricature of a peasant attempting a courtly dance, his heavy steps stuck not only in persistent hemiola, but awkward three-measure phrases as well – all of which was glossed over through Mr. van Zweden’s choice of tempo. Perhaps he views these same qualities as amounting to extreme instability of character, but either way I didn’t find it to be successful. The DSO displayed in the Allegro assai the same brilliance as in other fast movements all evening and, while something of an anticlimax after that minuet, brought the Mozart Festival to a satisfying close.

***11