MM 3: And No Birds Sing

United StatesUnited States Mostly Mozart 3: Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn: Lisa Batiashvili (violin), François Leleux (oboe), Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 5.8.2012 (SSM)

Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni, K.527
Bach: Concerto for violin and oboe in C minor
Mendelssohn: Symphony No 3. in A minor (“Scottish’)

The theme for this year’s Festival is bird songs and their influence on composers. There will be (or were) discussions as well as a bird walk through Central Park. I have no problem with this and have refrained from commenting earlier in fairness to the Festival and its promoters. But having attended five concerts so far, I must say that the bird songs that are being piped through the lobbies of Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall have quickly become tiresome and inescapable (owl hoots in the Alice Tully men’s room!). Leaving the concert hall still enveloped in the music’s sound-world, I was rudely brought to earth by the chatter of mockingbirds, catbirds and wood thrushes (from what I can remember of ornithology). We all live with enough ambient noise and would expect, no matter how well intentioned, that the City’s premier music center would be the last place to be adding aural intrusions to our already overly noisy environment.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Lisa Batiashvili returned this past Sunday to Alice Tully Hall after their admirable performance the other night of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. For this concert, Ms. Batiashvili was joined by oboist Francois Leleux of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Both soloists and orchestra played the first movement with sharp accentuations and a strong forward rhythmic propulsion. The musicians were generally well-balanced with the oboe occasionally overpowering the violin. This was partially due to Ms. Batiashvili not pushing hard enough but also to the oboist filling the musical space with what seemed to be twice as many notes as the violinist. The second movement marked Adagio is in all respects a Siciliano similar in style to the second movement of the keyboard concerto BWV 1053; both pieces are in 12/8 time and start out with pizzicati played by the violins and violas, lulled along by a mellifluous rocking motion. Echoing each other, the two soloists other gave a sensitive and expressive turn to this movement and the piece concluded with a lively Allegro.

Although this was not a “mostly Mozart” program, the concert did begin with a charmingly expressive interpretation of the Overture to Don Giovanni. Yannick Nézet-Séguin brought out less of the Overture’s tragic overtones than its melodic material. Perhaps, if this were actually the lead-in to a performance of the opera, one would expect to feel a little more frisson than was given here, but this was a concert aria and not an opening to the opera itself.

Nézet-Séguin seems to thrive on fast tempi, and in the concluding Mendelssohn “Scottish Symphony” he was in his realm. Take out “un poco,” “non” and “assai” from the movement headings and you are left with a bright and energetic symphony whose movements would be marked “Andante con moto-Allegro agitato,” “Vivace troppo,” and a final “Allegro vivacissimo-Allegro Maestoso. The third movement Adagio, a heartfelt paean interrupted by seismic changes, leads into the final movement’s dramatic representation of the Scottish barrens.

It is fortunate for Philadelphia and its orchestra to have acquired Maestro Nézet-Séguin as principal conductor–and for New York as well, to know he is only a short distance away.

Stan Metzger