Mostly Mozart Festival in New York – Louis Langrée conducts the last three symphonies [39, 40, 41 (Jupiter)]

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langrée

Reviewed by: Luna Shyr

Reviewed: 23 August, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Louis Langrée. Photograph: Benjamin EalovegaLouis Langrée once described conducting the finale of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony as “cathartic”. He shared such purification with a packed Avery Fisher Hall that was already sizzling. In the final program of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival the presentation of his Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 as a triptych was more than convincing. Not only did Mozart compose them in the same year (1788), he did so after something of a hiatus from writing in this genre. To hear the progression and rapid development of Mozart’s artistic voice in a single evening felt rapturous, so hats off to Langrée and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra for a mostly top-notch performance.

While the ensemble didn’t start together at the top of No.39, it was quickly recovered to demonstrate elegant and expressive playing that held good for the rest of the concert. The musicians displayed energy, ideal pacing and just the right balance of firmness and delicacy. The E flat Symphony evoked a palatial ball, with its ceremonious first movement and soft, nocturnal Andante giving way to a relaxed Minuet and a lively finale. Langrée, without a score throughout the concert, was engaging to watch as he led (and leaned into) the orchestra like a gentle but commanding choreographer.

Not everything came off: the famous theme that opens the G minor Symphony was one of only few disappointments. The tempo felt awkward, and the orchestra seemed unsteady and unsure of its footing. Instead of the mysterious agitation and romantic yearning this music can evoke, it came through with plodding heaviness that extended to the slow movement. The orchestra finally pulled together at the close of the Minuet and re-emerged fresh in the finale, delivering racing passages with impressive cohesion and exchanging phrases back and forth with splendid chemistry.

The ‘Jupiter’ rendition never faltered, starting with an Allegro vivace that combined the heartiness of K550 with the elegance of K543. Gorgeous were the Andante’s muted passages, which can easily drag and fray. Balances were superb, with violas and second violins coming through with a vitality and volume that’s often lost. Musicians swayed during the charming Minuet, which was followed by an outstanding and joyous finale. The origins of the ‘Jupiter’ moniker may be uncertain – but just as the giant planet exerts a powerful gravitational force, so the music here generated an inescapable bond.

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