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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Concert Review: Genius of Love

Mostly Mozart's 2012 opening features starry special guests.
Mostly Mozart opens with an appearance
by tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Mostly Mozart Festival is Lincoln Center's oldest summer event, bringing patrons into the cool confines of Avery Fisher Hall since 1966. This year's kickoff concert attempted to recreate the feel of an old-fashioned Viennese concert program, where listeners might hear a smorgasbord of musical styles: opera arias and overtures, a symphony and maybe a concerto, presented in whatever order seemed most entertaining and sensible.

The August 1 concert began at the end of Mozart's oeuvre with the overture to La Clemenza di Tito, his hastily written opera seria dashed off to accompany the coronation of Austrian emperor Leopold II. Louis Langrée, who is beginning his tenth year as the Festival's music director, led a robust performance of this underrated work. The overture featured rich brass playing and brisk, energetic strings from the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.

The Piano Concerto No. 20 was next. Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire took the solo part in this, one of Mozart's most Romantic creations for keyboard and orchestra. Whereas most piano concertos of this period have soloist and conductor working in harmonious accord, Mozart's work places the lone instrument in opposition to stormy chords from the orchestra. Mr. Freire engaged in friendly combat with Mr. Langrée, soloing with liquid grace against the accompaniment, which is similar in style and tone to certain pages of Don Giovanni.

The Romance from this concerto is one of Mozart's "greatest hits," with a simple, singing melody that arrests despite its familiarity. The third movement followed without pause a steeplechase rondo between the piano and orchestra that enthralled the audience. Mr. Freire's nimble navigation of the cadenzas and Mr. Langrée's enthusiastic, forceful accompaniment merged to resolve the work's musical argument and end the piece on a triumphant note.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee opened the second half of the program with Misero! O Sogno, a ten-minute concert aria that presents the singer with numerous vocal challenges. Mr. Brownlee, best known to New Yorkers as a key player in the current bel canto revival at the Met, used the lower end of his supple tenor instrument to deliver this aria's dramatic message. The final section, with its florid reiterations of similar syllables allowed the singer some room for vocal display.

He followed with the much better known Un' aura amorosa, Ferrando's triumphant Act I love-song from the first act of Mozart's Cosí fan tutte. Mr. Brownlee's tone in this aria was broad and even, with emphasis on careful production of sound and deep understanding of the text.

The three-movement Prague Symphony (No. 38) is one of Mozart's great mature efforts. It was played here with robust tone and rhythmic snap.  Mr. Langrée worked without a score, triggering the dramatic chords and drawing an exceptional performance from the Festival orchestra. The final movement, a powerful, exuberant Rondo inspired the Festival Orchestra to a high level of playing, as the notes crackled with bright energy.

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