The annual Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center opened on Tuesday with something of a contextual rarity: an all-Mozart programme. Despite relatively timid repertory choices, it turned out to be an auspicious beginning.
With the inimitable music-director Louis Langrée manning the podium – a post he eventually shares with various guests of varying repute – the hum-along agenda began with the Don Giovanni overture and ended with the Jupiter Symphony. In between came the A-major Concerto, K.488, an extraordinarily rewarding vehicle for that most poetic of pianists, Richard Goode.
Langrée is a musician who has attained a delicate balance of efficiency and sensitivity. On past occasions his best intentions were sometimes compromised by an ad-hoc ensemble more notable for enthusiasm than polish. On this occasion, however, the Festival Orchestra demonstrated equal parts bravado and suavity. The summertime audience, informal in attire but sophisticated in demeanour, responded accordingly.
The operatic overture, which could have been just a dutiful warm-up exercise, was dispatched with urgency that hardly precluded finesse. The symphony, predicated on propulsive speed but not undue haste, actually sounded fresh and fluid.
Still, the evening was dominated by Richard Goode at the keyboard. In an exquisitely nuanced performance of the joyful concerto, he sustained warmth and tension, also beguiling restraint within a persuasive aura of spontaneity. Never succumbing to interpretive flash or indulgent mannerism, he savoured precious detail here and, in comparable, compatible measure, a grand, heroic line there. Ever subtle and ever supple, he maintained a fragile fusion of virtuosity and introspection. Langrée and his cohorts provided remarkably sympathetic support.
Long, long ago, Goode studied with two uniquely expressive masters of the old school, Rudolf Serkin and Mieczysław Horszowski. Obviously he learned their lessons well.
Incidental intelligence: Langrée first led a Mostly Mozart concert here in 1998. He became chief maestro four years later. A few hours before this concert, Lincoln Center announced that his contract has been extended until 2017. This, obviously, is a happy marriage.