Mostly Mozart in New York – Magnus Lindberg Premiere

Le nozze di Figaro, K492 – Overture
Violin Concerto [World premiere]
Don Giovanni, K527 – Overture
Piano Concerto in A, K488

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

Lars Vogt (piano)

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langrée

“A Little Night Music”

Linea D’Ombra
Clarinet Quintet
Zona [U.S. premiere]

Joshua Rubin (clarinet & bass clarinet)

Katinka Kleijn (cello)

International Contemporary Ensemble
Christian Knapp


0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 22 August, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall & Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York City

Although the festival is called “Mostly Mozart”, this evening would be better described as “Much Mozart, but Mostly Magnus” – Magnus Lindberg, that is. Prior to the concert, Billboard Magazine’s classical music columnist, Anastasia Tsioulcas, interviewed the Finnish composer. Then the Avery Fisher Hall audience gave a warm reception to the world premiere of his Violin Concerto, brilliantly performed by Lisa Batiashvili with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée. Afterwards, at the Festival’s “A Little Night Music” concert at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse, the International Contemporary Ensemble performed three more Lindberg compositions, ending just before midnight. There was a good deal of Mozart as well at Avery Fisher Hall – two great opera overtures and German pianist Lars Vogt’s virtuoso and lyrical performance of the A major concerto.

Lindberg’s Violin Concerto seemed rather out place in the midst of “Mostly Mozart” since its only connection to Mozart was the composer’s use of nearly the same orchestral forces as Mozart’s violin concertos and adherence to a three-movement structure. Composing a concerto for violin, which is primarily a melody instrument, posed a particular challenge for Lindberg, whose compositional style focuses on harmonic structure with melody being, for the most part, incidental. Lindberg also took his use of a Mozartean ensemble, with limited winds – two each of flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns – but no brass or percussion, as a further challenge, since he generally utilises a wider range of instruments.

Lindberg was quite successful in meeting these self-imposed challenges, blending his harmony-based style with the violin’s natural singing voice to create a solo part that at some times stood out melodically and at others provided the harmonic underpinnings of the music. He also managed to produce a rich-textured orchestral sound, creating the illusion of a larger and more varied ensemble – for example, getting two horns to sound almost like a brass section.

The solo violin part is a virtuoso tour de force which, true to Lindberg’s style, evokes a wide range of timbres from the instrument, starting with the concerto’s opening, with the solo violin, then joined by the orchestral violins as well, playing an extended passage in harmonics. Batiashvili was up to the work’s many technical challenges while producing a robust sound that stood out from the orchestra even during loud tutti passages.

The concerto, although played continuously, has a three-movement structure, with the first part being the longest and most intricately developed. The second movement is slow and more lyrical, beginning with a wind-section chorale and ending with an extended and highly demanding cadenza, in which Batiashvili got to show off her dazzling technique. The third movement ran the gamut from rapid to even more rapid, until the chorale reprised and the solo violin played the concerto’s concluding notes.

Langrée made appropriate use of Mozart overtures to precede each of the concertos, opening the concert with the one to “Le nozze di Figaro”, and beginning the second half with that to “Don Giovanni”.

Vogt gave the A major concerto a sparkling performance, bringing out, with his sensitive phrasing, the lyrical, at times almost operatic, melodic lines of Mozart’s score, and playing the composer’s own cadenzas (this being one of the few concertos for which Mozart’s cadenzas are extant). Indeed, Mozart had opera very much on his mind when he composed this concerto, completing it just a few weeks before the premiere of ‘Figaro’. Vogt’s playing in the second movement Adagio was highly affecting, capturing the music’s unrelenting melancholy, and in the ebullient concluding Allegro assai, he navigated the arpeggios, scales and runs with consummate ease.

The late night all-Lindberg concert, which took place in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, opened with an early work, his 1981 Linea D’Ombra (which takes its title from the Joseph Conrad story “The Shadow Line”). This quartet for flute, clarinet, guitar and percussion focuses on rhythm and timbre. All of the players are called upon to vocalise and verbalise, and to produce a variety of percussive effects, both with their own instruments – for example, by pressing keys or tapping the barrels of the flute and clarinet without blowing into or across them – and by striking a cymbal with drumsticks.

The Clarinet Quintet, dating from 1992, uses the same forces as well-known pieces by Mozart and Brahms. The clarinet is at times a solo instrument, as in the work’s opening, fluttering passage, yet often blends into the ensemble. Lindberg creates a variety of string textures, sometimes dense and sometimes light, and quite eerie when the strings all play harmonics with the clarinet in altissimo register. As usual, Lindberg keeps the work tonally off-balance, with the strings and the raucous clarinet sliding away from, and then back toward, harmonic stability.

The final performance of the evening was the U.S. premiere of Zona, a concerto for cello and chamber ensemble that was composed in 1983 and revised in 1990. As the work progresses, the cello part, skilfully played by Katinka Kleijn, increases in prominence and becomes less and less connected to the rest of the ensemble, which includes alto flute, bass clarinet, violin, double bass, harp, piano and percussion. As in Linea D’Ombra, various players double as percussionists, playing such instruments as triangle, tam-tam and maracas. The work has much rhythmic interest, at times maintaining a steady beat without overtly signalling as much, and sometimes employing broken rhythms as thematic material is bounced from instrument to instrument.

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