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Mixed Bag

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
08/17/2001 -  
Maurice Ravel: Ma mere l'oye
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto # 24
Serge Prokofieff: Violin Concerto # 1
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony # 104

Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
Vadim Repin (violin)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langree (conductor)

Like a ceremonial procession from a Rimsky-Korsakov opera, the Entrance of the Guests continued this week at the Mostly Mozart festival (the gentle reader will note that I exhibited great restraint in discarding my original image of the “Entrance of the Buffoons” from Khachaturian’s ballet Gayneh). A string of European conductors on holiday is replacing outgoing music director Gerard Schwarz this season and each concert is a bit of an unexpected adventure. This weekend’s mystery candidate is Louis Langree, whose bio indicates his sojourn in the French minor leagues for the last seven years or so. His chosen program for the evening’s bill of fare could be described as inclusionary if one wanted to be complimentary, haphazard if one was of a critical bent. Let’s just say that the mix of pieces was decidedly eclectic.

Monsieur Langree needed all of one minute to establish his mastery. The ravishing performance of the Ravel was an instant testament to his abilities for those of us who suffered through the anemic sonorities of Andreas Delfs last week. It was hard to believe that this was the same orchestra. The orchestrated piano music of Ravel varies considerably in weight of musical ideas, but is remarkably consistent in the brilliance of its instrumentation. Hearing this ”Mother Goose” played so magically actually made me hunger for the original version, but I will just lie down for a while until this feeling goes away and continue to hear in my memory’s ear the rich, exotic blends spun into Langree’s ornate tapestry.

Of course, we are supposed to be here to venerate old Wolfgang and tonight’s performance was suitably well balanced and proportioned in the happy mathematics of the Enlightenment. Vladimir Feltsman is a bit frustrating to his fans (of which I am one) but it is his very unpredictability which so fascinates us. His flirting with the edges of notes, his exploration of unusual dynamics and his just plain inaccuracy can add the flavor of a flying Wallenda to his concerts. Tonight he was on his best behavior, hitting the notes in their center and actually intoning most of them that appear in the score. Before Mendelssohn and Schumann “rediscovered” Bach, his lineage lived mostly through the connection of Johann Christian’s tutoring of the young Mozart in London. The Larghetto of the 24th Concerto is a prime example of this improvisatory legacy and Feltsman communicated this stylistic connection superbly. His intriguing surprise this night was an unfamiliar cadenza replacing the more standard one written by Beethoven and exploring in chordally bombastic terms the meat of the musical matter at hand. The small pick-up band which graces this festival was extremely full-bodied in its accompaniment (I spotted several of my favorites from the similarly staffed Orchestra of St. Luke’s among the population) and matched Feltsman measure for masculine measure. This essentially same group slid around rather shoddily under Delfs just one week ago.

Surprisingly, the piece to which I was most looking forward was the most disappointing. I have written in these pages before about the strong tone of Vadim Repin, so reminiscent of that of the similarly pudgy-fingered David Oistrakh and relished its majesty in the beginning of the Prokofieff. However, the performance of this otherwise lively concerto was positively wooden, the spirit of the music almost totally subsumed by the ardent but perhaps self-serving display of prodigious technique. Here I think Langree should have been more assertive as the sum total of the performance was more a cold Siberian primer on violinistic mechanics than a playful, rhythmically inventive work of Russian exoticism. I rushed home to listen to my ancient LP recording of this concerto with Oistrakh just to reinforce my failing memory of the wit of Prokofieff who one would have thought was a Calvinist minister if this Repin reading were his only source material.

The ending Haydn was significantly solid, putting an exclamation mark on the brief residency of this promising conductor. It also marked Parade’s End, as Schwarz himself will lead the last of the four weeks of concerts. He has worked long and hard to elevate the professionalism of this splendid series but it is difficult to evaluate the appreciation of his New York listeners. As another fine North American musician once wrote “…you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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