MM 8 Andrew Manze’s Magical Conducting

United StatesUnited States MM 8-Bach,Mendelssohn,Mozart: Stephen Hough(piano), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Andrew Manze (conductor), Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, 21-22.8.2012 (SSM)

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major (1731)(arr. Mendelssohn, ed. David)
Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor (1831)
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K.551 (“Jupiter”) (1788)

The overall success or failure of any music festival depends on the usual set of variables: choice of composer and compositions, orchestra, conductor, soloist, program selection and the performance itself. This year’s Mostly Mozart Festival was particularly noteworthy in its attempt, consciously or not, to freshen up some of the tried and true musical masterpieces. This was accomplished in two ways: first, through the unusual matching of conductors and orchestras, the second, by the choice of unconventional editions of familiar works. Both elements were present in Tuesday night’s performance.

Andrew Manze has been conducting for close to ten years, but it is hard not to think of him as the great Baroque violinist whose large discography revived interest in many unknown 17th-and-18th century composers. As a conductor, he has risen quickly in the ranks, and one can see why. In addition to his energetic and totally committed conducting style, he brought with him some magic fairy dust that turned a traditional orchestra into an early-music group.

So here we have a Baroque violinist turned historically informed conductor leading a traditional non-early-music orchestra in a version of a Baroque masterpiece edited to make it playable by a “modern” 19th century orchestra! Yet so convincing was this performance it would be hard to differentiate the standard edition from Mendelssohn’s altered one. The first major modification was the addition of clarinets to the orchestra to substitute for the difficult trumpet parts that Bach wrote for higher-ranged valveless trumpets

The other major change was in the second movement. Concertmaster Ruggero Allifranchini performed the famous “Air on a G String.” Mendelssohn’s version calls for a violin soloist, the other first violinists put down their bows. Again, without listening carefully you’d think this version was the original one. Clearly Allifranchini knows how to emulate 18th century bowing, as it was clean of any vibrato. Although, during other parts of the concert, many string players weren’t controlling their vibrato, Manze was still able to get the effect he wanted: a stylized rendition, brimming with charming dance rhythms, biting and incisive string playing and vividly colored wind and brass.

In his performance of the first Mendelssohn piano concerto, Stephen Hogue seemed to thrive on the energy of the conductor and orchestra. Hough and Manze took a pleasant enough piano concerto by the twenty-two-year-old Mendelssohn and turned it into a work far beyond its seeming simplicity. Both Hough and Manze’s involvement with the work was tactile. Playing from memory, Hough moved quickly along through the final catchy third movement themes and received the audience’s rousing applause. Unable to quell the audience, he performed an encore that needed no introduction: the”Träumerei” from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony received a vibrant, nearly electrifying interpretation. Manze conducted with his whole body. He brought out some wonderful effects by revealing buried motives normally not heard, such as the whispering strings in the transitions of the first movement or the bright and breezy wind playing in the third movement Minuetto. The finale was a non-stop whirlwind of sounds redoubling with intensity at the coda’s conclusion.

Stan Metzger