Friday, August 24, 2012

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra - Bach, Mendelssohn & Mozart - 08/21/12

Conductor: Andrew Manze
Bach: Orchestral Suite No 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No 1 in G Minor - Stephen Hough
Mozart: Symphony No 41 in C Major, K. 551 (Jupiter)

After some exciting performances of major works by Beethoven and Brahms lately, it was high time to indulge in a bona fide masterpiece by the man without whom the festival wouldn't be: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And what better way to celebrate the Viennese master's genius than by treating myself to his truly god-worthy Jupiter? What's more, Stephen Hough and Mendelssohn did not sound like a bad pairing, and everybody loves Bach, so off my friend Linden and I went on Tuesday night... only to serendipitously bump into an old acquaintance of mine/dedicated music lover from Washington, DC at the entrance of the Avery Fisher Hall. Great minds think alike indeed.

Bach's Orchestral Suite No 3 had actually been arranged by Mendelssohn, which provided a nice transition to the second piece on the program. But it first provided a nice opening to the concert, with the wonderful "Air on the G String" artlessly standing out in all its ethereal simplicity.
Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No 1 is only 20 minute long, but then again, why keeping on rambling on if you've already made your point, right? And the young composer certainly packed a lot in a comparatively short span, all brisk tempos and bright melodies. In the effortlessly virtuosic hands of Stephen Hough, the Romantic euphoria sprang up bubbly and intense, but always knowing its place in respect to the orchestral accompaniment.
The ovation was long, loud, and eventually rewarded with an achingly delicate Traumerei. The perfect counter-balance after Mendelssohn's fireworks, Schumann's little treasure was all the more savored for its serene nature.
After the intermission, during which we rushed out to warm up on the balcony, we giddily went back to our seats and for a few minutes even forgot the frigid temperatures in the concert hall, carried away that we were by the Jupiter's attention-grabbing, vibrantly contrasting opening. And it only got better as the sprawling symphony magnificently unfolded. International conductor Andrew Manze had for sure hit the bull's eye for its first gig with the Mostly Mozart Festival and he did not spare any effort. Under some rather inconspicuous looks he obviously nurtures a passionate soul, which became quite apparent as he was vigorously leading the orchestra into an energy-filled, impeccably informed and all-around impressive performance. Now I can say that beside some brilliant distractions from Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Mendelssohn, I finally heard some truly kick-ass Mozart at the Mostly Mozart Festival, and was able to subsequently go home with complete peace of mind.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra - Mozart, Schubert & Brahms - 08/17/12

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Mozart: Symphony No 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16
Schubert: Symphony No 4 in C Minor, D. 417 (Tragic)
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 - Joshua Bell

After celebrating the Mostly Mozart Festival last week with Beethoven and some Schubert, I eagerly went back to the Avery Fischer Hall last Friday night for... Brahms and some Schubert this time, and a little bit of Mozart too! But let's face it, my main reason to be there was not Mozart's first ever symphony, which I had never heard, or Schubert's Tragic symphony, which I had heard just two weeks earlier, but Brahms' mighty violin concerto, which has always been one of my top favorites among the whole classical music repertoire. To make things ever better, the performer would be no less than Joshua Bell, whose mission for the last couple of decades has apparently been to bring Romantic works to dazzling life, and the conductor would be no less than Louis Langrée, whose undeniable chemistry with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra consistently produces genuinely satisfying results. There were definitely worse ways to start the weekend in the company of these two gentlemen.

Short, at barely 12 minutes, and straightforwardly entertaining, if not bristling with his trademark inspired refinement, Mozart's first symphony was a welcome curiosity, all the more endearing when one learned that he had reached the ripe age of eight when he composed it. Treating it with all due respect and a whole lotta love, Louis Langrée led the orchestra into a lively and much heart-felt account of this playful trifle.
Schubert was 19 when he wrote his Tragic symphony, and while it is a definitely longer and obviously more mature composition that Mozart's first effort, there's no denying the youthful vigor it exudes. This happy surprise of the preview concert sounded just as good as the first time, opening with a brooding mood before turning into a whirlwind of nostalgia and vivaciousness, and eventually concluding in unresolved agitation. It is a surprisingly complex journey for a teenager to create, but by all accounts Schubert knew where he was going. And so did conductor and musicians at the Avery Fisher. The music was overflowing with a boundless energy and a constant attention to details that would have made the young master proud.
Then finally came Joshua Bell and the Brahms violin concerto, the last, but evidently not least, treat on the program. As far as I'm concerned, hearing Brahms' masterpiece live performed by the right person is one of the most divine pleasures one can experience in a concert hall. Friday night was no exception, with Joshua Bell and his intensely lyrical tone expertly negotiating delicate poetic passages, sweeping dramatic moments and exhilarating dance melodies. However, once the daunting technical challenges masterfully handled, this concerto proved to be much more than just a spectacular flash-over-substance tour de force and got deep into Brahms' own turbulent, spirited and passionate nature. This feat was accomplished in no small part thanks to soloist, conductor and orchestra all getting into the perfect groove for a grand performance. There was no encore after it, in spite of the audience's insistence, but really, none was needed. Or was it?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra - Schubert/Berio & Beethoven - 08/08/12

Conductor: Susanna Malkki
Schubert/Berio: Rendering
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major (Emperor) - Garrick Ohlsson

After the delightful tease that was the preview concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival, my official attendance of it finally started on Wednesday night with... Beethoven, because... why not? He was a bona fide member of the Viennese gang, after all. Not to mention that under no circumstances would I miss an opportunity to hear his monumental Emperor concerto, especially if Garrick Ohlsson is the man in charge of the keyboard. Even if I was not as blunt about it as the woman seating next to me, a spectacular, if unfortunate, vision of cheap plastic surgery, gaudy make-up and not quite age-appropriate baby doll dress, who matter-of-factly stated to her companion that "the good stuff is coming later", I certainly did not expect the mysterious Schubert/Berio's Rendering to surpass the unsurpassing. So after enjoying the recordings of chirping birds all over the Avery Fisher Hall lobby, a lovely testimony of this year's focus on the pleasures of bird singing, I went into the concert hall determined to find out about the first part of program while silently pining for the second half.

The history of Rendering started when, in 1828, Schubert had the misfortune of dying after composing just a few sketches of what was supposed to become his Symphony in D Major. Fast forward roughly one and a half century later, when avant-garde Italian composer Luciano Berio decided to use those fragments while writing a new orchestral work, dutifully filling in the gaps between Schubert's last, but definitely not least, inspired ideas. And the result is... a bit out of the ordinary, with Schubert's splendidly expressive sketches connected by gently atmospheric episodes that seem to float in mid air while waiting for the next Viennese excerpt. Petite and assertive Finnish maestra Susanna Malkki did not let the unusual arrangement throw her off though, and she led the Mostly Mozart Orchestra in a vivid performance of this constantly surprising piece.
As predicted, the pièce de résistance of the concert belonged Garrick Ohlsson and his brilliant handling of Beethoven's mighty Emperor concerto. Both robust and sensitive, his interpretation unapologically evoked the unstoppable triumph of life that found its way on the score just as Napoleon's army was mercilessly marching on Beethoven's Vienna. The stark military style of this heroic march, however, did not overshadow the stunning lyricism of the Adagio un poco moto, a graceful meditation emerging like a tranquil oasis amidst all the on-going tumult, before the irresistible theme starts again, more powerful than ever. Solidly backed up by the orchestra obviously enjoying themself, Garrick Ohlsson beautifully nailed down yet another impressive feat.

After Beethoven's passionate emotions, Chopin's "Grande valse brillante" in E-flat Major concluded this rather short concert with just the right combination of intricate harmonies and light-hearted fun. Mozart was not missed.