It has been a long, dry summer in Manhattan as regards so-called classical music. Relief materialised on Tuesday, however, with the start of the Mostly Mozart Festival. Although the agenda turned out to be mostly Beethoven, only a Salzburgian churl would complain about the nominative technicality.
The ambience was familiar. Successfully simulating intimacy in the wide open spaces, Louis Langrée, the intrepid maestro in residence, moved the playing area forward and seated audience members on all four sides of the platform. He concentrated on hum-along hits and enlisted not one but two stellar soloists. A big crowd, happily attired in summertime mufti, applauded lustily at virtually every Luftpause.
In many a previous season, Mostly Mozart efforts proved more noteworthy for enthusiasm than for precision. The ensemble, after all, is assembled ad hoc, and rehearsal time must be limited. This year was different, blissfully different.
Langrée, sometimes merely efficient in the past, sustained compelling passion. His attentive players responded with gutsy bravura. His fine soloists – the British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and the French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – performed as if lives were at stake.
The possibly too generous programme began with a crisp yet hearty account of Beethoven’s Coriolan overture and ended with a brisk, light and thoughtful dash through Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. In between came a matched pair of fancy Mozart arias and, perhaps most stimulating, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.
Coote sang the concert showpiece “Non temer, amato bene” with wild fervour yet never allowed heat to preclude accuracy. Bavouzet made the piano sing with, and against, the vocal line most sensitively. Later, Coote brought florid swagger and the same expressive fever to “Parto, parto” from La clemenza di Tito, brilliantly seconded by the clarinettist Jon Manasse.
In the Beethoven concerto, Bavouzet sustained a perfect balance between introspection and flash, bridging vast dynamic and tempo extremes without mannerism or eccentricity. He even made luxurious sense of Beethoven’s most exhaustive, stormy, circuitous cadenzas.
For once, a festival really seemed festive.