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New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
08/01/2008 -  & August 2, 2008
“Mostly Mozart Festival”:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture and Quando avran fine omai…Padre germani, addio! from Idomeneo, K.366 – Adagio and Fugue, K. 546 – Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477 – Misera! Dove son…Ah! non son io, K. 369 –Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504
Anton Webern: Five canons after Latin texts – Five religious songs

Christiane Oelze (soprano) Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée (conductor)

Louis Langrée (© Chris Lee)

If the spiritual-minded wear bracelets initialed W.W.J.D? – What would Jesus do? – I had more high-falutin’ initials in mind after last night’s concert . Specifically, W.W.W.H? – What Would Wolfy Hear?

Translated, if Mozart had been seated in the middle of Avery Fischer Hall, he would have been highly pleased with the performance of his own music. But what would Mozart have made from the 9 intense minutes of two song-cycles by his fellow Austrian, Anton Webern? Would his musical instincts—the most profound in the history of the art—have gauged Webern’s challenges? Would he have enjoyed it? Danced his characteristic little jig of joy?

Unlikely as that situation may be, I have the feeling that when the fascinating German soprano Christiane Oelze was singing Webern’s early Five Canons on Latin Texts, Mozart would have understood and felt quite happy. After all, Mozart always had his ear out for brilliant sopranos, his loved the clarinet (and presumably the bass clarinet here), and Webern’s form was very simple indeed. The same kind of canons and double canons which Mozart himself used to amuse himself.

But would he have been confused by the Five Religious Songs? Perhaps not. Mozart had the most delicate sense of orchestration, and the quantum-mathematical interweavings of voice and seven solo instruments would have intrigued him more than if he caught the dodecaphonic songs. Perhaps he would have shuddered (as I did) from the lack of affinity between words and music, but quickly, Mozart would have caught onto the tiny diamond-like dazzlements of the songs themselves.

But let’s forget Webern for a second . The Mozart works on this program were, if anything, more unusual than the Webern bagatelles. For each work chosen by conductor Louis Langrée posed as much a challenge about the usual Mozart as Webern challenges diatonic music.

Begin with the great Quando avran fine omai from Idomeneo. Is this recitative or aria? Was this some kind of new through-composed piece? The opera, like all great music, is filled with flaws (and is no fun to see in toto). But what an amazing aria this is, and when sung with bell-like sonority by Ms. Oelze, the work summons up worlds of pleasure.

The following aria, written just after the opera, Misera! Dove Son, seems more conventional (after all, it was written by that poet for all seasons, Pietro Matastasio), but again, the form seems amorphous, a lyric line which is equally dramatic.

The Masonic Funeral Music was short and hardly funereal under the conductor’s baton. Perhaps as the finish of the first half, Maestro Langrée decided to speed it up, But Mozart took his mystical Freemasonry seriously, and the religious solemnity was missing.

Then we have Mozart the mime, the Adagio and Fugue written after Mozart “discovered” Bach and spent a whole night putting together the parts of an orchestral score. Mozart was not himself here,: he tried too hard, and the result was less than spontaneous.

Which was unlike the final (and only lengthy) work here, the “Prague” symphony. The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra not only played it with transparent perfection, but the conductor’s never-lagging tempos, if anything, turned that incredibly complex counterpoint of the first movement development and the bumptious finale into flowing glowing tapestry. Yes, the speeds were on the fast side, but never seemed rushed.

And now we come to the magic of Mozart’s genius. That buoyant frisky last movement sounded at times like the boyish Mendelssohn. But Mendelssohn took a musical feeling and let it play out. Mozart took this same feeling and coated it with pathos, with drama, with a bumptious joy and finally a swirling triumph.

Just a few final words on the orchestra. They never faltered, their winds had t classical coolness., the brass could have a solemnity but, as in the symphony, a triumph at well. Louis Langrée, the most prominent conductor of the Festival, is always surprising, both in selections and performance.

One last thought, back to Webern. After the Second World War, Webern was killed with one shot by an American military policeman. That was a tragedy, of course. But the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra bettered that. Dressed in tropical white, looking quite comfortable on a muggy August evening, they gave what can only be called a surefire Summery Execution.

Harry Rolnick



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