A Mozart & Beethoven Evening at Mostly Mozart 2013

In recent years I have attended many of the annual Mostly Mozart Festival Concerts at Lincoln Center, but my schedule this year has made that difficult, since I was away the first week of August for Glimmerglass Opera Festival, and I will be away the last weekend in August for the Lavender Law Conference in San Francisco.  But I am squeezing in two Mostly Mozart concerts, mainly because I particularly enjoy their Music Director, Louis Langree.

Last night I attended a Mozart-Beethoven evening conducted by Langree.  He began with Beethoven’s Overture to “The Ruins of Athens” and concluded with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  In between, he presented Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 K 219, commonly called the Turkish Concerto because of the pseudo-Turkish music in the finale, with Isabelle Faust as soloist.

I thought this was an excellent concert, despite the conservatism of the programming, because the conductor and orchestra were so intensely engaged, and the soloist was so delightful.  The Beethoven overture is actually rarely played as a concert piece, probably because it lacks the great tunes and exalted structure of the frequently played Beethoven concert overtures, such as Egmont or Prometheus, or the various overtures he wrote for his only opera (Leonore, known in revised form as Fidelio).  But this made sense for the program, because the theater piece for which he wrote it depicted the results of the Turkish sack of the city of Athens, so it provided at least a brief take by Beethoven on the pseudo-Turkish music that was the rage in central Europe in the late 18th-early 19th centuries.  Mozart did rather more with this, not only in the finale of the Concerto, but also in his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio.  The result is lively and tuneful, with hearty, stomping dance rhythms, in the Mozart finale.  Any “Turkish” influence in Beethoven’s music is more subtle.

Ms. Faust, who I don’t believe I’ve previously heard perform live, is an entrancing soloist, very physically demonstrative, who introduces her own ornaments and even some mini-cadenzas in the course of Mozart’s concerto, as the young composer (he wrote this at 19) would probably have done himself.  The interplay between Faust and Langree was fun to watch, and the result was a triumph.

No less a triumph, from my perspective, was the Beethoven symphony performance.  Of course, the Mostly Mozart orchestra, an aggregation of mainly freelancers and members of other groups that comes together annually to spend the month of August together with Langree, doesn’t have the polish and tightly knit ensemble of a group that plays together continuously throughout the long concert season, such as Orpheus or St. Luke’s or the NY Philharmonic.  As a result, there is sometimes a sort of “rough and ready” quality to their playing.  In addition, we are used to hearing Beethoven’s 5th performed by a rather larger string body than this (10-8-6-4-3), so the second movement suffered a bit from the lack of a really big, plush string sound, and the finale could sound a bit scrappy at times from the sheer lack of depth in a chamber-orchestra-size string body.  But, those issues aside, this was a super-charged 5th, the wind solos were almost all spot-on, the tympanist gave the kind of assertive performance, especially in the finale, that really propelled the music forward.

I found myself quite caught up in it, thinking as I was leaving the hall that no matter how many times one hears this piece, or how many other pieces command one’s allegiance, after a really good performance one feels like this symphony is the greatest ever written, the most perfect in form and expression, the most exhilarating to hear.  There was an immediate standing ovation that was well-deserved.

My only other Mostly Mozart concert, at least as of now, will be the all-Brahms program next Saturday, which I greatly look forward to.  We don’t hear the Brahms Double Concerto very often, so it should be quite a treat.

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