A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Op.21
Violin Concerto in D, K218
Coriolan Overture, Op.62
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
Joshua Bell (violin)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 16 August, 2016
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
Mendelssohn’s Overture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written when he was seventeen, blends Classical elements with a Romantic atmosphere. In his New York debut, Matthew Halls led the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in an underwhelming performance that highlighted structure but lacked emotionality, played cautiously, and although the violins sounded clean and pretty in the scampering passagework, the brass bursts were much too loud. There was little shaping of phrases, and accuracy superseded passion.
Things took a U-turn once Joshua Bell arrived, bringing Romanticized sensibilities to the staunchly Classical Mozart. Bell’s big gestures, wide dynamic range and crisp articulation did not feel stylistically out of place. He was at his best in the central Andante cantabile that showcased his Stradivarius’s tone from richness to brilliance. Bell shone in his own cadenzas, melodic material taking precedence over virtuosity, and well-suited to Mozart’s era, with the playful exception of one in the Finale that quote the theme from Jaws. The Orchestra matched Bell well without becoming overbearing.
In Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, written for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 play, Halls led a forcefully dramatic account that kept the excitement level high all the way through. The balance was excellent – no small feat in this acoustically quirky venue – and it remained so in the Eighth Symphony. Although the piece is in some ways a return to Classicism, and jokes, Halls emphasized its serious nature, highlighting the driving rhythmic motifs in a rousing reading. Tempos were brisk with accompaniment figures given equal weight to melodic lines. Accents were consistently incisive and dynamic contrasts huge. In the Finale, Halls was impressive in allowing the music space to continually gain excitement without loss of clarity. The Eighth emerged as fervently passionate as the mighty Seventh.