So I played through the Mozart at my lesson the other night, a good thing since I've been practicing little else. It went okay, I thought, more or less the same as the runthrough I posted earlier. M said nice things, then wondered if maybe the tempo I'd picked was a little faster than I was comfortable with. I'd played it within spitting distance of 102, which is where I'm aiming, but no question it's a hard piece, and is a stretch for me to play perfectly there. We slowed the tempo down a bit, to about 94 or so, cleaned things up, and spent awhile working on really emphasizing phrasing. I have to admit, it probably sounds better slower, for me right now anyway. Not only is it cleaner, it sounds more in control, not so much at the edge of what I can do. (Or at least, what I can do, in isolation, on my best takes on my best days. A performance is not a compilation of the best times you've ever played every passage, but rather something more like an average, or including all the mistakes which typically occur.)
Still, though. Tempo changes the character of the piece. It feels different, faster vs slower. It sounds fine at 94, I know, it's a lovely set of notes at any speed, but it just sounds so... moderato. My pride would like to play it allegro, spritely and brightly, even if it's some kind of allegro ma non troppo per la fagottista mediocre, and it's not perfect. Taking some pity on the audience, though, I'd probably be served by putting pride aside, and playing the heck out of it at a tempo where it's easy enough, rather than pushing it to where it's a technical exercise. And to keep working on the technique. A few months ago I would have been delighted to be able to play it clean at 94. If I keep working up the tempo, by the time I think I can almost play it at 116 or 120, then maybe 100 will be an acceptable performance tempo. But that's no small change, I really need to continue to level up as a technician to do that. And every improvement requires increasing levels of work. Back to the practice room, I guess.