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The Opening Week of the Mostly Mozart Festival

The opening week of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival -- which runs from July 27th throughout August 2010 -- provided much enjoyable music-making. The gala concert opened strongly with a confident reading of Mozart's Overture to La clemenza di Tito, an engaging work from the composer's glorious late period.

To celebrate the bicentennial of Chopin's birth, renowned pianist, Emanuel Ax, joined the Festival Orchestra to perform the composer's F minor piano concerto, a work not without Mozartean echoes. However, the concerto-form took an unfortunate turn in the Romantic period, where virtuosity dominated formal integration.

Chopin's influential concerto set the tone for this approach and though I don't dissent from the consensus view of the composer as a master of piano-writing, this early work lacks the compressed intensity of his pieces for the solo instrument.

After intermission, the outstanding mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe performed three beautiful arias: one from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, another from Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, and, as an encore, "Ombra mai fu", from Handel's Serse. The singer was received enthusiastically. For those of us who were seated behind the orchestra -- an often thrilling location in which to be ensconced -- it proves a liability when there are singers, as they sing in the opposite direction and the effectiveness of their voices becomes lost in the hall. The concert concluded with a first-rate performance of Mozart's "Haffner" symphony, which rose to ecstatic heights in the final movement.

On Saturday evening, the Chopin festivities continued with a pre-concert recital of the second 12 of Chopin's Twenty-four Preludes, elegantly played by the young pianist, Haochen Zhang.

Afterwards, the Festival Orchestra under Louis Langrée returned with a second program. The concert began with Webern's brilliant arrangement of Bach's ricercar from The Musical Offering; this is an intensely exciting work and the orchestra presented the complex instrumental texture of Webern's orchestration with great success.

It was a pleasure to have James Ehnes join the orchestra for Barber's astringently gorgeous violin concerto, heard earlier this year at Avery Fisher with Gil Shaham and the New York Philharmonic. (Shaham will be performing at the Festival this week -- more on that to come.) Ehnes garnered a joyous response from the audience and returned to the stage to perform Paganini's 16th Caprice as an encore. After intermission, the orchestra gave an able reading of Beethoven's extraordinary 7th Symphony.

The evening concluded with a terrific recital at the Kaplan Penthouse where Ehnes was joined by Andrew Armstrong at the piano. Amidst the amusing banter of the two performers was some fine musicianship. The recital opened  with Kreisler's lovely baroque pastiche, Praeludium and Allegro.

There followed a sensitive rendition of Elgar's violin sonata in E minor, a rich work with mysteriously obsessive elements that curiously prefigure the minimalism of Pärt and Gorecki. Ravel's entertaining Tzigane concluded the scheduled part of the program but the musicians returned for two exquisite encores -- Ravel's lesser-known but beguiling Berceuse sur le nom, Gabriel Fauré and Fritz Kreisler's delicate arrangement of Cyril Scott's Lotus Land.

2010 Mostly Mozart Festival
Lincoln Center
the Avery Fisher Hall
Alice Tully Hall

box offices at Broadway and 65th St

Tickets can be purchased online at MostlyMozart.org
by phone via CenterCharge at 212.721.6500, or by visiting the box offices at Broadway and 65th St.

For more information on the 2010 Festival, including audio and video clips, the public can visit the Festival’s Multimedia Lounge at www.LincolnCenter.org/MozartMediaLounge

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