Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor; Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin. August 23, 2014.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra Left (Seat W5, $88.50).

Susanna Phillips, soprano; Kelly O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Dimitri Pittas, tenor; Morris Robinson, bass.
Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell, director.

Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of Christ (1973) by Frank Martin (1890-1974).
Chorales from St. John Passion (1724) by Bach.
Requiem, K.626 (1791) by Mozart.

Tonight’s was the last concert for this season’s M|M Festival.  Anne is in Brazil, so she can’t go.  CS also bought a ticket to the event, so we went up together in his car.  We had dinner at the Hunan restaurant Legend on 72nd.  I also had time to exchange some of the tickets for the upcoming opera season.  (Out of the series of 7 operas, I may end up exchanging tickets for 6 of them; such are the perils of committing early.  Today I did three.)

The program certainly held a lot of promise.  And it has Langree’s fingerprints all over it.  The piece by Martin was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the UNESCO-founded International Music Council.  It is for the solo violin, with a double string orchestra.  A similar arrangement (although it was with two “complete” orchestras) was used in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.  Naturally the chorales used for today are from Bach’s other passion: St. John’s.  What Langree did was to put a “relevant” chorale between pairs of Martin’s movements.  This results in the following structure for the first half of the concert:

Image de Rameaux
*Chorale: O grosse Lieb
Image de la Chambre haute
*Chorale: Ach grosser Koenig
Image de Judas
*Chorale: Wer hat dich so geschlagen
Image de Gethsemane
*Chorale: In meines Herzens Grunde
Image du Jugement
*Chorale: Durch dein Gefangnis, Gottes Sohn
Image de la Glorfication

Per Wikipedia, Kopatchinskaja was born in Moldova in 1977.  The violin she plays – an 1834 Pressenda – makes a good but not brilliant sound.  Against a smallish orchestra (actually two smallish orchestras) it worked quite well.  The description in the Playbill (by David Wright) was quite easy to follow, and the sentiments are consistent with the titles of the movements.  One exception is Judas, instead of sinister (Wright describes it as “seethes with barely contained malevolence”) it sounded comical.  I imagine I would have found the piece enjoyable if I had listened to it as one integrated piece; I can’t imagine I would put it on the same level as Bach’s Chaconne, as Menuhin apparently did after premiering it in 1973.

Unfortunately I didn’t listen to the piece as a whole.  Instead it was interrupted again and again by the chorales from St. John’s Passion.  (Some would say Bach's chorales kept being interrupted by Martin.) The idea has some merit to it, but in practice it didn’t work for me at all.  If Langree wanted to incorporate some chorales into the program, perhaps he should have done them on a stand-alone basis.  For me that would make the contrast more apparent, instead of making both parts sound disjoint.

It is a pity that these are the thoughts that stay with me after a day (I am writing this review about 24 hours after the concert.)

When I wrote the review on the Salzburg concert I went to last month, I remarked that it was my first encounter with Mozart’s sacred music.  That was an erroneous statement: I had heard the Requiem before at a New York Philharmonic open rehearsal, in November, 2013.

My reaction to the New York Philharmonic rehearsal was very positive, with me conjecturing that the actual concert would sound “great.”  Tonight’s was a good performance, for sure, but I must say it was nowhere near “great.”  Both the orchestra and the chorale sounded somewhat stretched, the music probably challenged their technical and musical ability: the high notes were a tad too high, the precision in the instruments wasn’t quite there, and balance was somewhat lacking.

The chorale consists of about 45 members.  I saw a couple of women among the men, CS thought men and women seemed to be randomly placed.  If that is so, it must be a great challenge for the conductor.  The four soloists all had good and strong voices, but they didn’t seem to work together, leaving me with the impression they were trying to outdo one another.  Interestingly they were situated between the orchestra and the chorale.

Mozart died with much of the work unfinished.  While a version was soon published with the “blanks” filled in by Mozart’s pupils, with Xaver Sussmayr doing the bulk of the work, performers often have felt free to modify the work to suit their taste.  Langree did that.  I don’t know if it is because of that, or because of the way it was performed, the music didn’t come across as particularly sacred, or requiemesque (if there is such a word.)  Of course the text helped remind me what it was.

The applause afterwards was thunderous and prolonged, and many roses were presented to the soloists, the orchestra members, and the conductor.  I assume this is the audience showing appreciation at the end of the Festival.  These guys put out 10 different programs over the course of 5 weeks, a challenging deed by any measure.

I managed to attend four of the concerts, and am glad I went.  This is a music festival, after all.  New York Times published an online review a few hours ago; the reviewer couldn't quite bring himself around to say "it was a great concert" either.  He provided one example of how Langree modified the Requiem.

Traffic home was quite smooth also.  I got home a bit after 11 pm.

No comments: