Mostly Mozart (2): Jérémie Rhorer Returns to Lead Works by Mozart and Beethoven

United StatesUnited States Mostly Mozart (2) Beethoven, Mozart: Paul Lewis (piano), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Jérémie Rhorer (conductor), Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, New York 6.8.2013. (SSM)

Mozart: Overture to Le nozze di Figaro
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K.503
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major

When the musical choices for a concert program consists of works that are tried and true, it requires the performers to rise to the occasion: to recreate, not simply to repeat the works at hand. Sometimes the confluence of musical connections will simply light right up. At other times a performer will possess a charismatic charm that captures and captivates the orchestra, the conductor and the audience. Sometimes, as occurred here, nothing exceptional takes place. During the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival, I wrote this about conductor Jérémie Rhorer and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra:

“Rhorer was more than enthusiastic, but the orchestra responded lethargically. This could have been a result of weeks of rehearsing unfamiliar or not commonly played pieces with different conductors, lack of sufficient rehearsal time, poor rapport between the conductor and the orchestra or a combination of any or all of these reasons.”

I include the entire quotation as a ditto to the concert reviewed here. It is easy to go into auto-pilot mode if there is no attempt by the conductor to take control.

One might have hoped that Paul Lewis, the well regarded pupil of Alfred Brendel, would have been able to bring something special to the proceedings, but he too seemed uninspired, even as he attempted to give the Mozart concerto an air of grandeur and majesty. Strangely, Lewis, whose performances of the music of Beethoven and Schubert have been lauded all around, has barely touched anything by Mozart. His discography shows no Mozart and in concert, as best as I can determine, he has only the Mozart piano concerto played here (and recently performed at the Proms) in his repertory.

To be fair, I must say that there was hardly anything specifically wrong with the performances. The opening Overture to Le nozzi di Figaro was perfectly acceptable and went by so quickly that I thought that there might be something missing. (I hadn’t realised that it is the briefest overture in all of Mozart’s major operas.) The Piano Concerto No. 25 had few instances to praise or criticize. The cadenza to the first movement written by Brendel did not have the complexity and dramatic bite that can  be found in those by Busoni, Robert Casadesus or Friedrich Gulda. In the third movement, the modulations into minor keys during the development section lacked the darkness that should have been in sharp contrast to the rest of the movement’s cheerfulness. I did like the different emphases Rhorer gave to the opening notes of the recurring main theme.

The performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 was the sole work after the intermission, making for a less varied program and a concert that without intermission barely clocked in as an hour’s worth of music. Although the symphony used conservative tempi, it seemed rushed and there were few “Bravos” from the audience, an unusual occurrence at a New York classical music performance.

I am curious about the next program in the series, another tried and true group of works. This time the orchestra is led by the resident conductor, Louis Langrée, who is known to have a good rapport with his instrumentalists.

Stan Metzger