The first week of programs at this year's Mostly Mozart Festival collectively constituted a strong opening for this anticipated month of classical music at Lincoln Center.
On the evening of Saturday, July 28th, at Avery Fischer Hall, a one-hour, free preview concert with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under the baton of the energetic conductor Louis Langrée — here celebrating his 10th year as music director — proved to be a delightful and tantalizing promise of glories yet to come.
After introductions by artistic director Jane Moss and by Langrée, an exciting account of Mozart's "Prague" Symphony ensued. Langrée tends to favor accelerated tempi but manages to resist rushing the orchestra.
This year, a special focus of the Festival will be upon Franz Schubert whose "Tragic" Symphony closed the concert in a measured but satisfactory rendition.
The "Prague" Symphony also concluded the opening program — devoted entirely to Mozart — of the festival with the Festival Orchestra, again under Langrée. I attended the repeat performance on the evening of Wednesday, August 1st, also at Avery Fischer, beginning with a sprightly version of the Overture to La clemenza di Tito.
One of the greatest living pianists, Nelson Freire — who dazzled audiences at last year's festival with tremendous performances of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto — then took the stage for a lovely reading of the magnificent Piano Concerto No. 20. Unlike last year, however, the pianist could not be persuaded to provide an encore.
This program also featured the outstanding tenor and Metropolitan Opera headliner, Lawrence Brownlee in two arias. Brownlee has a very beautiful voice although is not the most compelling stage presence but it hardly mattered in this setting where actorly resources were not called upon. His version of the concert aria "Misero! o sogno . . . Aura che intorni spiri" didn't seem to be ideally suited for his voice, however, but his performance of "Un' aura amorosa" from Così fan tutte was simply gorgeous, highlighting a splendid evening.
At Alice Tully Hall on the next night, Thursday August 2nd, Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the superb Chamber Orchestra of Europe in an outstanding all-Beethoven program. Nézet-Séguin debuted at the festival in 2009 and from the beginning of his meteoric rise since then, he has proven to be one of the most dynamic young conductors working today.
The concert opened with a powerful performance of the Violin Concerto featuring the attractive, young, Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili in a superb reading, excelling at Fritz Kreisler's cadenzas. The second half of the evening was devoted to a gripping account of the "Eroica" Symphony, with Nézet-Séguin characteristically favoring faster tempi — especially so in the first movement here — but with no loss of clarity. The conductor deserves special praise for managing to infuse such familiar repertory with so much vitality.
Nézet-Séguin moved from strength to strength with the three programs he conducted over the following three days. On the Friday and Saturday evenings, he led the Festival Orchestra in the Beethoven Second Symphony and — with the excellent Concert Chorale of New York under the direction of James Bagwell — Franz Joseph Haydn's seldom-performed "Nelson Mass". The Beethoven was not the least remarkable for how Nézet-Séguin — again favoring faster tempi — managed to persuade one that the distance between the Second and Third Symphonies might be far narrower than has commonly been supposed.
The Haydn was similarly revelatory, featuring a superb slate of soloists, most prominently Christiane Karg, extraordinary here in the primary soprano role but having received fine support from the wonderful tenor Toby Spence as well as another terrific soprano, Julie Boulianne; the bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams was also quite good, if most effective in his higher register.
Both performances were preceded by splendid pre-concert recitals of the engaging D major Sonata for violin and piano of Segei Prokofiev, originally scored for flute and piano but revised for the legendary David Oistrakh; here violinist Benjamin Beilman was accompanied by Yaekwon Sunwoo, both notably promising young musicians.
On Sunday afternoon, Nézet-Séguin again led the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a memorable concert. Mozart's masterful Overture to Don Giovanni opened the program in a transparent reading. Batiashvili then took the stage accompanied by the accomplished oboist François Leleux for a pleasing performance of the glorious C minor Concerto for violin and oboe of Johann Sebastian Bach, reconstructed from the two-harpsichord version.
As an unexpected encore, the soloists treated the audience to a duet arrangement of the Queen of the Night's tuneful aria "Der Hölle Rache", from The Magic Flute.
The program — and a pleasurable first week — closed with a stirring, finely textured account of Felix Mendelssohn's magnificent "Scottish" Symphony.
Tickets are available through the website: MostlyMozart.org,
by phone via 12.721.6500.
Mostly Mozart Festival 2012
July 28 - August 25
Avery Fisher Hall
Broadway and 65th St.