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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Concert Review: His Back Pages

Mostly Mozart 2015 opens with rarities from the composer’s catalogue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Louis Langrée (center) leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.
Photo © 2015 by Richard Termine for the Mostly Mozart Festival.
Although Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at 37, he left a catalogue of music that is staggering in its size and artistic breath. Mozart was five years old when he wrote his first three keyboard pieces, and 14 when his first successful opera (Mitridate) premiered. On Tuesday night, Mostly Mozart offered a look into the dark corners of Mozart’s fast catalogue, playing a program of realities rarities to open its 49th festival season.

Under the baton of veteran music director Louis Langrée, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra sprang from the starting gate with the overture to Die Schauspieldirektor (”The Impresario.”) This charming little comedy that dates from 1784. Notable here was the complex interplay between strings, horns and winds, which crossed each other deliberately, quarreling like a couple of recalcitrant opera buffa characters.

Written that same year, the Piano Concerto No. 14 is not heard as often as its younger brothers, but this quirky and wholly original work stands as a great early representation of Mozart's fearless and inventive style.  Emanuel Ax played the solo part, bringing an evenly balanced performance that used the sustain pedal to create a liquid, almost vocal sound against the loping 3/4 accompaniment of the orchestra. Mr. Ax is always an involved, attuned artist, and his onstage presence showed as much interest in the tutti playing of the ensemble as in his performance of Mozart's own solo cadenzas.

The second movement (taken at a gentle walk, now in duple time) allowed Mr. Ax to dominate, drawing a sweet and caressing tone from his keyboard and sighing with the orchestra. The final rondo was a theme and variations that allowed for showy display in its complex main thematic idea before that idea was repeated, expanded, reimagined four times and and finally brought home in a stunning display of triplets. Mr. Ax then obliged with an encore, playing Chopin's Op. 34 No. 2 Waltz in A minor with a good deal more expression and dynamic than he brought to the Mozart.

The second half of the program featured soprano Erin Morley, a fast-rising star in New York making her debut on the Festival stage. Ms. Morley chose two little-known opera arias, both written by Mozart for Aloysia Weber, a famed soprano of Mozart's time and the composer's brief love interest. (When Mozart married Constanze Weber, she became his sister-in-law.) Written for the Vienna performances of the now-forgotten opera Il curioso indiscreto by the (also-forgotten) composer Pasquale Anfossi, they have survived into the repertory despite the obscurity of Anfossi's work.

"Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio" allowed Ms. Morley to make a strong impression with two very different singing styles. , from the slow opening cavatina to the fast and furious cabaletta that followed. But the jaw-dropping "No, che no sei capace", was the real gem here. A show-stopping "rage" aria complete with firework coloratura display and a tightly nailed high F at the top of its arc, this might be seen as a blueprint for the much later and more famous arias sung by the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte.

The concert ended with the Symphony No. 34, the last extant example of an early Mozart symphony before the long pause that led to his final creative period. Here, the Festival orchestra players and Mr. Langrée gave a warm and robust account, even mischeviously adding the brief fragment of a minuet that Mozart planned for this symphony but never completed. Mr. Langrée paused after the orchestra cut itself off, and offered a quick word of explanation before diving into the quick final movement and bringing this opening night to a sparkling close.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.