Mostly Mozart (3): Conductor Louis Langrée Breathes Life into Festival Concert

United StatesUnited StatesMostly Mozart 3,  Beethoven, Isabelle Faust(violin), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée (conductor), Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, New York 9.8.2013. (SSM)

Beethoven: Overture to Die Ruinen von Athen
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (“Turkish”)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor

Louis Langrée returned Friday evening to conduct what certainly has become his Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, having relinquished his leadership to conductor Jérémie Rhorer for several days this past week. Rhorer’s program had a similarly constructed lineup: a Beethoven overture, a Mozart concerto and a Beethoven symphony. Aside from sharing this complementary formula, these performances had little in common. It’s hard to believe that the superb playing last night was from the same orchestra that a few days earlier, under Rhorer’s direction, had given a listless recital of works that are nearly equivalent in quality.

From the opening stacatti of the Beethoven overture I knew this concert would more than redeem its languid predecessor. The following brief march, meltingly taken up by the oboe and supported by the bassoon and horn, leads into the brief central subject. Echos of earlier music and shadows of music to come abound in this barely 5 -minute gem. From the past came reverberations of both the final movement of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and the trial and initiation music from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. From the future came adumbrations of the overtures of Rossini and in particular his overture to William Tell.

If Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust as soloist was not entirely successful, it did come close to the mark. We had here two strong personalities, Faust cool and intellectual and Langrée fervid and rambunctious. Her performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto is about as good as any other out there, whereas Langrée is in his element with music that he can fire up, as he does with Beethoven. Although this was Mozart’s final violin concerto, it still is an early enough work that the entire first movment could still be played appropriately in the stil galante. This was Faust’s approach to the concerto. Langrée went for a more dramatic, even tragiocomic approach. The tremolos, for instance, that appear in the first movment created a kind of jittery, almost electrical quality at odds with Faust’s coolness. Faust’s quiet entry and jump into the allegro aperto seemed somewhat disjointed. Her playing was majestic while the orchestra’s was rougher and less refined. Faust could have dug in a bit. Mozart’s music isn’t breakable.

Faust and Langrée were better matched in the mellifluous second movement: coming together to sing an elegant and eloquent song which then leads into the the surprising final movement. Here Mozart, aged 19, makes his final statement in the violin concerto genre. Choosing the most conservative musical form, the rondo, and the simplest tempo, that of a minuet, Mozart sets up the standard staging for a typical finale. Even the slightly foreboding modulation in the second iteration of the rondo doesn’t seem extraordinary, but the third iteration, the so-called Turkish march, is something else. Here Mozart switches to two-four time and into the far-away key of A minor. With the inevitable return from these musical whirlings to the opening theme, Mozart plays one final trick in ending the concerto with a quiet run of the same grace notes used in all the cadences of the rondo’s main theme.

After intermission Langrée accomplished the very difficult task of giving Beethoven’s 5th a new lease on life in a performance that abounded in energy and enthusiasm. Langrée pulled out all the stops: the orchestra snapped to attention, the string players sawed (and soared) through the four movements. I can’t remember a more rousing segue into the final movement. It’s good to have the orchestra back in the magical hands of Maestro Langrée.

Stan Metzger