Only Mozart Opens Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, NY

United StatesUnited States  W.A. Mozart: The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Susanna Phillips (soprano), Louis Langrée (conductor) Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, 3-8-2011 (SSM)


Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 (1786)
Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major for violin and viola, K.364 (1779–80)
“Crudele?…Non mi dir, bell’idol mio,” from Don Giovanni, K.527 (1787)
Bella mia fiamma…Resta, o cara, K.528 (1787)
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K.425 (“Linz”) (1783)

In my first review of a Mostly Mozart concert last year, I expressed gratitude that that particular concert was “Mostly Not Mozart.”  Having attended numerous performances under the 18-year leadership of Gerard Schwarz, I grew weary of quickly rehearsed, spiritless concerts. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times refers to this period under the baton of Schwarz as “the dreary days.”

Those days are certainly over. Louis Langrée took over from Schwarz in 2002 and has made it his own festival. Last night’s opening performance seemed like a return to the golden days. Even Avery Fisher Hall felt less humongous and, while not quite intimate, certainly warmer.  Acoustical “pods” hanging from the ceiling dampened the theater’s usual screechy resonance; filled grandstands on the stage may have also aided in this aural improvement.

The program was an ideal first-night summary of the major Mozart forms: opera, concerto and symphony. The Overture to Le nozze di Figaro was cleanly articulated and moderate in tempo. I’m not sure what the turnaround in instrumentalists is from year to year, but this certainly didn’t sound like a pick-up group. The players showed no first-night jitters and performed as if they had been playing together for years (and maybe they have).

The Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major for violin and viola is one of the dozen or so pieces by Mozart that ensure, should most of his other scores disappear, he would still be considered one of the great composers in history. The back and forth between the violinist, Christian Tetzlaff, and the violist, Antoine Tamestit, was so smoothly delivered that it would be difficult in some passages to discern where the violin ends and the viola begins. Mozart enhanced this bonding by retuning the viola to fill any register gaps between the two instruments. I felt the third movement might have been played a tad slower, but that is a minor issue. I was curious about the note at the bottom of the Playbill listing for this piece that states they “will perform Mozart’s own cadenzas.”  We have, unusually, Mozart’s own cadenzas for the first and second movements. (In a concerto for solo instrument, the performer was expected to improvise his own cadenzas. This is the case with Mozart’s piano concerti.) But in a double concerto it would be nearly impossible to improvise a cadenza; Mozart had to  provide them for the performers. In the case of the piano concerti, many alternative cadenzas have appeared but few stand up in quality to the ones written by Beethoven. As for alternative cadenzas for the Sinfonia concertante, I’m sure that someone has written one, but it would be a fool who would think he could improve upon the original. I certainly would be interested in hearing any, but I’ve failed so far in even finding a reference to such a work.

After the intermission, Susanna Phillips performed two arias, one from Don Giovanni, ” Crudele?…Non mi dir, bell’idol mio,” and the other a concert aria written a few days after the premiere of that opera. Both are lovely and were sung warmly by Ms. Phillips. One certainly understands the desire to have an aria from this opera on the program, given the fact that this opera will be performed this week as part of this very festival, but why choose two arias so close in style and both in C Major?

The final piece was the Mozart Symphony No. 36 played spiritedly by Mr. Langrée and orchestra. This was a finely honed performance though not quite as clearly delineated as the Sinfonia concertante. In the other works presented this evening all the repeats were taken; here, in the Poco Adagio second movement (played closer to an Andante), the repeats were omitted. As a result, the contrast between the 6/8 meter of the second movement and the 3/4 time of the Minuet was slightly dulled. I would be curious if the second performance of this work were more relaxed, not being under the constraints of the radio and video schedule to finish in exactly two hours.

These are minor complaints about an opening-night concert that promises well for the series. As Raymond Ericson stated in his review of the very first Mozart Festival Concert in August of 1966: “You can’t go wrong on Mozart.”

Stan Metzger

This series continues at Lincoln Center through August 27. See Mostly Mozart Festival.