Mostly Mozart in New York

24 August

Mozart
Idomeneo, K367 – Chaconne
Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Haydn
Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drum Roll)

Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Bernard Labadie

28 August

Mozart
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Requiem in D minor, K626

Jeffrey Kahane (piano)

Lisa Milne (soprano)
Jill Grove (mezzo-soprano)
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Nathan Berg (bass)

Riverside Choral Society

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langrée

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Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 28 August, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Only two seasons ago, New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival seemed doomed. The Festival Orchestra, in its 17th year under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, had begun to sound dull and uninspired. The programming had become all too predictable, with soloist after soloist playing one Mozart concerto after another, often two per night. And finally, a strike by the 42 members of the Mostly Mozart Orchestra resulted in the cancellation of 20 of the 31 concerts scheduled for the summer of 2002.

But over the past two years things have changed, most notably in the area of programming. Under the leadership of Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s vice president of programming, and Louis Langrée, Mostly Mozart’s music director who took over from Gerard Schwarz in 2002, the festival’s programs have become much more varied and compelling. In a season of accelerated evolution, this past August’s offerings at the 38-year-old festival included opera (Jonathan Miller’s production of Così fan tutte), dance (Anne Teresa De Keermaeker’s troupe Rosas in a choreographic interpretation of Mozart concert arias, and Mark Morris’s company dancing to Haydn), world music, a series of one-hour, late-night recitals (“A Little Night Music”) in an intimate penthouse setting, and a film festival featuring memorable Mozart performances from the past.

Apart from these more experimental programs, this year’s festival still offered a lot of conventional concerts by the Mostly Mozart Orchestra (which really were mostly Mozart), and by invited soloists and ensembles. On August 24 Bernard Labadie led the Festival Orchestra in a program of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. The concert opened with a graceful rendering of Mozart’s Chaconne from Idomeneo.

The performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 was the best-played piece of the evening. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson displayed a magical combination of poetry, power, and purposefulness. Ohlsson’s was richly textured, thoroughly engaging, and often transporting. Labadie and the Orchestra provided him with excellent support throughout. The opening Allegro moderato was poetically thoughtful, and the interchange between soloist and orchestra in the ensuing Andante con moto was also full of lyrical feeling. The vigorous finale was positively sparkling, with Ohlsson displaying brilliant technique as he brought the concerto to a joyful and exhilarating conclusion.

In Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony, Labadie led a lively and fresh performance in which he did his best to restore some element of surprise to this memorable work by consistently emphasizing sudden pauses, rhythmic buoyancy, and unexpected turns of melody or harmony. The players performed vigorously, with concertmaster Krista Bennion Fenney executing a resplendent violin solo in the delightful variations of the Andante.

Following a recent trend a taking works outside their historical context and coupling them with thematically related music from other cultures, the festival’s penultimate concert on August 27 juxtaposed Mozart’s Requiem with a set of improvisations by the Middle Eastern ensemble Ghazal, a string duo or Indian sitar and Iranian kamancheh.

For the final concert on August 28, however, the organizers took the precaution of programming the Requiem more conventionally, substituting Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25, with Jeffrey Kahane as soloist, in place of Ghazal.

Jeffrey Kahane’s playing of Concerto No.25 displayed a lot of character and fun, with the ingenious soloist playing his own cadenza for the opening Allegro maestoso. Although at times the playing sounded somewhat rushed and imprecise – on the part of the orchestra as well as the soloist – overall this was a lively and enjoyable performance.

After the fresh and vigorous playing of Jeffrey Kahane, the Requiem, despite Louis Langrée’s extremely brisk pacing, sounded decidedly loose and sloppy. The 103-member Riverside Choral Society produced a thick, weighty sound that was totally lacking in lyricism and drama, and the orchestral playing was less than polished, displaying frequent imbalances. The most positive feature of the performance was the singing of soprano Lisa Milne and tenor Christoph Prégardien, but that alone was not enough to make the performance memorable, a disappointing end for what had been for the most part a lively and exciting Mostly Mozart season.

Be that as it may, the full house responded with a standing ovation, perhaps applauding the festival as a whole as much as this final performance.

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