Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mostly Mozart Festival - Haydn, Mozart & Mendelssohn - 08/11/09

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Haydn: Symphony No 104 in D Major, "London"
Mozart: Adagio for Violin and Orchestra in E Major, K. 261 - Joshua Bell
Mozart: Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in C Major, K. 373 - Joshua Bell
Mendelssohn: The Hebrides, Op. 26 ("Fingal's Cave")
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 - Joshua Bell

The third and final round of my abridged, but immensely gratifying, Mostly Mozart Festival found me back in the Avery Fisher Hall with the festival's official orchestra conducted again by Louis Langrée. Superstar violinist Joshua Bell was the very special guest for the evening, having been tapped to contribute his wide-ranging skills to a couple of short, purely classical pieces by Mozart and, more predictably, Mendelssohn's unabashedly romantic violin concerto. A fervent admirer of Haydn and Mozart when the rest of the world was foolish enough not to care much for them, Mendelssohn more than deserves a special place in a Mozart-centric festival, and his rugged Hebrides were a nice extra touch next to one of his most famous works. Haydn was, one more time, a familiar and welcome figure, perfectly suited to get things started.

The London symphony's lasting popularity can be easily explained by its majestic opening, natural elegance, downright happy and more subdued sections. Yesterday, all the right ingredients were there, and under Louis Langrée's assured baton, the orchestra was obviously having a good time and unconditionally let us partake in the celebration.
Mozart's Adagio and Rondo may have lasted only about 10 minutes altogether, but these sure were 10 heavenly minutes. Both works were composed for Salzburg concertmaster Antonio Brunetti, and while the Adagio was a substitute for the middle movement of his violin concerto in A Major, the equally charming Rondo is a stand-alone work. Clearly demonstrating that he is not just the ultimate Romantic expert, Joshua Bell appropriately delivered delicate interpretations of these exquisitely crafted little gems.
Mendelssohn's strongly atmospheric Hebrides provided a stark contrast to the previous, more polished, works, and colorfully evoked the rough-looking islands of western Scotland by emphasizing the fast-changing light and climate that are part of their natural environment.
Nevertheless, no matter how thoroughly enjoyable these pieces were, there is little doubt that the concert was sold-out because of the very last offering on the program. Especially written for the concertmaster of Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, Ferdinand David, who also happened to be a close friend of the composer, Mendelssohn's widely popular violin concerto has regularly appeared in the répertoire of every concert violinist since its creation. After recording it twice and playing it for decades, Joshua Bell can probably nail it even in his sleep by now. Luckily for us, he was decidedly wide awake yesterday evening, even adding some novel, revitalizing sparks to the über-familiar score with his own cadenza. In his ever-dependable hands the concerto came dazzlingly alive with inspired lyricism, bursts of focused energy, and some good old fun too, like one of those elatingly refreshing storms that New York so sorely needed on that hot summer night. In lieu of cooling rain, we had to - happily - settle for musical fireworks, and the virtuosic eruption at the concerto's very end smashingly concluded my Mostly Mozart Festival mini-marathon in grand style before I reluctantly headed back to Washington and sweltering inertia.

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