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Another Op’nin’, Another (Mostly) Mo….

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
07/28/2009 -  & July 29
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor
Franz Josef Haydn: Berenice, che fai?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major (“Jupiter”)

Leif Ove Andsnes (Piano), Alice Coote (Mezzo soprano)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée (Conductor)

Louis Langrée (© Chris Healey)

An artist must be mighty special to be remembered more than colleagues like conductor Louis Langrée or pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. But for the Opening Night of the 43rd Annual Mostly Mozart Festival, British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote was so dazzling in her Haydn scena that her colleagues seemed like musical bookends.

Now this is patently unjust to both artists. Mr. Langrée has commanded the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra for seven years, and his musical temperament fits the Festival as aptly as his characteristic Nehru-style shirt. Leif Ove Andsnes is a dazzling pianist, and he can play the most challenging music—whether Kurtág or Lutoslawski—as if it was child’s play.

But when Alice Coote walked onstage in a dress which shone like an enormous emerald against the ivory-white suits of the orchestra, the entire concert hall was changed. It wasn’t that her voice was so intense, or that the mezzo-soprano made the high notes in the soprano scena ring the rafters of Avery Fisher Hall, or that the Haydn’s Berenice che fai? is such a uniquely emotional piece of music.

It is all of that plus remarkable drama. For the long introduction is not the music of a sane woman, it is a woman torn apart with (in the English translation) “a strange icy chill”, “feet that cannot sustain their weight”, “a confused crowd of gloomy thoughts” etc. Schoenberg could well have used these words for a monodrama.

And Ms. Coote played it to the hilt. Her voice as clear as a Janet Baker, her emotions as uncontrolled as a Medea-style Callas, Ms. Coote simply tore the music apart. With a singer of less convincing voice, such searing passion might have turned to histrionics. Ms. Coote, though, played up and down the large-scale impassioned words with almost disconcerting intensity.

The first of the two following arias was so tender that it was almost a letdown. Not to worry, though. Haydn’s second stab at insanity (“The heartbreak makes me delirious….growing worse through this excess of agony”) was as much tragic theatre as the opening declamation.

Perhaps Ms. Coote got over this tragedy as easily as a nice British singer should. But the quarter-hour Sturm und Drang will remain in these ears for a long time.

The evening was billed as an “Opening Night Gala Program”, and it did indeed include the three main “classical” composers. But the opening, Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was less epic or severe as as light and lyrical. There is such confidence in Mr. Andsnes’ playing that he had no need to force the music. Instead, following the grave opening theme, he turned the work into an enjoyable romp. A noted climber in his native Norway, here Mr. Andsnes wasn’t scaling the heights but simply taking a stroll on a flower-filled plateau, brushing away a few annoying insects.

Conductor Langrée has a well-trained semi-chamber orchestra in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (about half the size of the New York Philharmonic), and his interpretation of the “Jupiter” symphony was quite pleasant. It came nowhere near the weighty Mozart of certain European orchestras, but Mr. Langrée has all August to prove what a fine conductor he can be.

Harry Rolnick



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