Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mostly Mozart Festival - Mozart & Stravinsky - 07/30/11

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Mozart: Overture to Le nozze di Figaro
Stravinsky: Symphony in C
Mozart: Symphony No 36 in C Major (Linz)

As July is slowly coming to an end, my concert dance card is finally starting to fill up a bit thanks to New York’s most welcome summer tradition that is the Mostly Mozart Festival. Moreover, as if fate just couldn’t wait to give me a little break, it inconspicuously dropped a two-comp ticket offer for the preview concert in my friend Paula’s e-mail, and she just as promptly bestowed one upon me. Life was worth-living again!
All those weeks of live music deprivation (Never mind the Bach Vespers quickie of last Sunday) had certainly contributed to lowering my standards or, depending on how you look at it, making me a more tolerant person. So lo and behold, I just could not wait to step into… the Avery Fisher Hall, of all places! But, hey, with a program promising the delicious overture to Le nozze di Figaro and the flawless Linz Symphony book-ending the Symphony in C by the “special guest” of this year’s festival, Igor Stravinsky, all seemed to come together to unofficially kick off the month-long festival with plenty of beauty, brilliance and fun.

Louis Langrée’s ever-present smile and communicative enthusiasm are now indelibly associated to the Mozart celebration, and we surely are all the better for it. Taking charge of the happy-looking musicians for the very first time this season, he vigorously led them into a graceful, exhilarating overture to Mozart’s “crazy day” opera. One would be hard-pressed to find a better-suited number to open the musical fest, and we did not even try.
Whether Stravinsky’s Symphony in C is actually a symphony or not has been forever debated among connoisseurs, but it is unquestionably an engaging, if not very well-known, piece of work. Written during particularly turbulent times in the Russian composer’s life (one of his daughters, his wife and his mother all died within six months), its four separate and distinct movements have allegedly more to do with the various locales in which they were written than with their creator’s own state of mind. And indeed, the first two movements, written in France and Switzerland, sound like an earnest homage to the time-honored European masters of the time while the last two, respectively written in Cambridge, MA and Hollywood, CA, do not hesitate to fool around with rhythms and harmonies. Diving head-first into the peripatetic work, the orchestra – with a special mention for the woodwinds’ remarkable poise – managed to confidently handle the challenge all the way to the quietly serene ending.
But it wouldn’t have been fair to open the Mostly Mozart Festival without a scrumptious treat by the man himself, so last, but by no means least, came his delightful Linz symphony. After the relative disorientedness generated by the Stravinsky showpiece, it was a pleasure to be back on firm and familiar ground with Mozart’s Symphony No 36 in – not so coincidentally – C, which he composed in four days during a stopover in (you’ve guessed it) the Austrian town of Linz upon the invitation of a rich and friendly supporter. If Mozart had a somewhat nonchalant attitude toward it, the public has continuously embraced this crowd-pleaser and it has remained one of his most popular hits. From the solemn notes opening the slow first movement to the stylish Andante, from the dance melodies of the Menuetto to the ever-changing moods of the Presto, last night’s performance of Mozart’s four-day miracle proved once again why his genius is still shining today as bright as ever. The infectious sheer joy of playing coming from the orchestra added to the perfectly balanced score made for a totally elating musical experience, one that was well worth-waiting for.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bach Players - Bach - 07/24/11

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D Major
Bach: Cantata 8 (Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?)

It is a well-known fact that desperation can make people do strange things, so imagine desperation time two! That’s how I found myself in a Lutheran Church last Sunday afternoon, with the double goal to revel in some long-overdue live music and to escape my AC-deprived apartment in a still very hot city. The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Park West did not turn out to be much cooler than my little home, but hearing Bach’s riveting compositions in such a lovely environment was nevertheless a very pleasant way to bring the weekend to an end.
Never mind the fact that the three movements of the concerto were not going to be performed nonstop from beginning to end, but instead be interspersed by preaching, praying, singing, rising and seating as well as money collecting (And to think that some people complain about some brief clapping between movements!). At least these Vespers had the merit of unfolding as it would have in Bach’s time, and we did not have much of a choice anyway.

The Brandenburg Concerto No 5 remains among Bach’s most popular works, and even when taking into account my natural aversion to the flute and the harpsichord, I have to admit that it is very addictive music indeed. Last Sunday was no exception as its perky sounds assuredly conjured up happy thoughts thanks to all the virtuosic playing. The three movements were performed by the highly regarded Bach Players in the space reserved for the organ, high above ground in the back of the church, and after deciding that twisting myself to face them wouldn’t be a good idea in the long run, I simply got to enjoy the live music coming from the back. Not ideal, but after almost a month of contenting myself with a steady diet of CDs, it was pretty satisfying.
Predictably enough revolving around the concepts of death, punishment and redemption, the German composer’s Cantata No 8 was the perfect opportunity to hear not only instrumental music, but a wide range of singing as well with two sopranos, an alto, a tenor and a bass. Individually and together, they added some nice human touches to the brief six movements blissfully performed, this time, one after the other and in front of the audience. So all things considered, this little local expedition turned out to be a nice little interlude while patiently waiting for bigger and better opportunities.