Conductor: Louis Langrée
Mozart: Symphony No 40 in G Minor, K. 555
Beethoven: Symphony No 7 in A Major
Some traditions are just so enjoyable that observing them is just a matter of course. And so is the Mostly Mozart Festival, New York City's breath of musical fresh air in summer, especially now that French music man Louis Langrée has been infusing it with daring and informal performances involving an eclectic assortment of musicians and composers. This naturally does not mean that the war horses are all forgotten - I am the first person to jump at any opportunity to hear the Jupiter yet one more time - and the good news is that they generally make their appearances with such an irresistible renewed vitality that one cannot but fall for them all over again.
The line-up of last night's preview concert did not scream boldness, but it certainly went straight to the point when it comes to superbly accomplished works by musical masters with Mozart's Symphony No 40 and Beethoven's Symphony No 7. As usual, the free and popular tickets had to be earned with an early wake-up call (although my showing up at 7 a.m. pales when compared to the 3 a.m. arrival of the first person in line) and a lot of patience (at least this year's bright sunshine was a welcome change from last year's sporadic drizzle). That's how for the second year in a row my friend Linden and I ended up in prime orchestra seats, from which we excitingly waited to be swept away by the Viennese power duo on a beautiful summer night.
After the customary introductions by Jane Moss, the artistic director, and Louis Langrée, the music director, we were all ready to get down to business in a packed Avery Fisher Hall, in which bleachers had been added on the sides and in the back of the stage. We did not have to bide our time for very long. As soon as we heard the first notes of the emotionally ambiguous but oh so catchy opening theme of Mozart's 40th symphony, we knew that we were in for a scrumptious treat. Solidly in charge of the evidently eager orchestra, maestro Langrée led a brisk performance that still gave plenty of attention to a myriad of details. While it overtly bristled with elegance and vivaciousness, this rendition did not shy away from displaying more agitated and somber overtones, therefore powerfully highlighting the incredibly wide dramatic range of the whole work. There was definitely some dark turmoil underneath the well-composed surface, all of it so remarkably put together that it seamlessly meshed and impeccably soared.
After Mozart's well-mannered odyssey, Beethoven made his grand entrance with the sweeping, life-affirming first movement of his 7th symphony. From then on, the infectious energy of the piece was steadily maintained until the very last note of the exhilarating Finale, except for the spell-binding Allegretto, whose magical power was barely disturbed by the brief ringing of a cell phone. Come to think of it, it probably makes sense that a fully committed Frenchman managed to effortlessly bring out such exuberant joie de vivre from one of Beethoven's sunniest works. Conducting here again sans score, Louis Langrée was clearly in charge and relishing every second of it. The musicians were happily keeping up with the high-spirited nature of the work, and the audience had a ball. As a matter of fact, the concert was such a resounding success that clapping dutifully erupted at the end of each and every movement of both symphonies. May this proof of boundless enthusiasm be a good omen for the official festival starting next week.