Friday, August 3, 2018

Mostly Mozart Festival - Adams, Bruch & Brahms - 08/01/18

Conductor: Louis Langrée 
Adams: Tromba Lontana 
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 
Joshua Bell: Violin 
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 

New York City’s Mostly Mozart Festival may not be the only game in town in summer, but it sure is the biggest event out there (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). Since 1966, the festival has been one of the most welcome perks of spending the summer in the Big Apple, which routinely involves putting up countless tourists, scorching heat, gross humidity, and grosser smells day in day out.
In such dire circumstances, looking for an opportunity to combine a cool space and superlative entertainment on a particularly sticky day, like my friend Christine and I did on Wednesday evening at David Geffen Hall, is a no-brainer. And that’s just what we got, as the air-conditioning was going full blast above our heads, and the entertainment was superlative on the stage in front of us.
Then again, it is difficult to go wrong with classical music superstar Joshua Bell as well as long-time Mostly Mozart Festival’s music director and more recent Renée and Robert Belfer music director Louis Langrée joining forces for a program starting with a short contemporary piece by John Adams, before digging deep into the time-honored repertoire for Max Bruch’s first violin concerto and Johannes Brahms’ second symphony.

Picking up basically right where we had left off last Saturday night, meaning with the ubiquitous American composer John Adams, we got to enjoy his Tromba Lontana, a four-minute breathe of the type of fresh air that we so sorely needed on Wednesday. So far, so good.
I do not actively look for the Bruch violin concerto when I scan concert programs, but every time I get to hear it, just like Joseph Joachim, I cannot help but marvel at how “enchanting” it genuinely is. It may not have the intricate complexity or the sweeping grandeur of some other violins concertos, but its unabashed lyricism and infectious charm are not to be discounted either.
Beside, having a certified virtuoso like Joshua Bell, who has never met a Romantic violin concerto he could not master, made the whole experience even more memorable. The famous sweetness of his tone combined with his signature knack at handling lush lines and explosive fireworks made him the ideal soloist for the Bruch on paper, and in real life too. He has obviously played this beloved classic for many years, so it was no surprise that on Wednesday night he delivered a performance that was deeply informed. But he also managed to keep it effortlessly fresh and totally engaging.
His expertise does extend beyond the warhorses though. Therefore, the encore that we insistently requested turned out to be a delightfully moody excerpts from John Corigliano’s score for the movie The Red Violin.
Still on German Romantic territory, we moved on to Brahms’ generally sunny and incidentally personal favorite Symphony No. 2 after intermission. Although it took him about two decades – and plenty of agony – to put together his first symphony, it took him only one summer to compose his second one. Having tamed Beethoven’s ghost and built some self-confidence, he quickly came up with a still rather traditional structure and constantly mood-shifting movements.
Louis Langrée and the MMF orchestra did not let the work’s daunting density intimidate them, but instead decided to dwell into the richness of a score that never ceases to impress and inspire the audience. Overflowing with a myriad of special moments deftly brought together by one unifying voice, the symphony beautifully unfolded under the steadily firm and totally committed conducting of maestro Langrée. That was the kind of performance that put a smile on your face for the next couple of days. And it did.