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Mostly Mozart: Nelson Freire and Lawrence Brownlee

by Angela Sutton


Lincoln Center opened its Mostly Mozart Festival on Tuesday night with a program drawn entirely from Mozart's mature years in Vienna. Conductor Louis Langrée, in his tenth year with Mostly Mozart, put the orchestra through its paces behind piano and vocal soloists, as well as works for orchestra alone.

The Overture to La clemenza di Tito, K. 621, displayed the ensemble's finely honed sound. Mozart subtly integrated several of the opera's dramatic episodes into a cogent five-minute introduction. Maestro Langrée's careful control of timing–always tugging on the vital inner rhythms that run through Mozart's work–made each transition both clear and startling.

Pianist Nelson Freire joined the orchestra for the famous D-minor Concerto, K. 466, that he recently performed at Tanglewood. The concerto's storied past includes public performances by Beethoven, and in the words of Charles Rosen, "when listening to [the concerto] is difficult at times to say whether we are hearing the work or its reputation." Injecting new life into this work is no small task, and although Freire's playing was exceptional, it didn't rise to this challenge. Apart from some fiery moments in the finale, Freire seemed determined to chug through the concerto in a business-like fashion.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee's performance in the second half, however, was another matter. In the concert aria "Misero! O Sogno," K. 431, and "Un' Aura Amorosa," from Cosi fan tutte, K. 588, Brownlee's emotional engagement (and apparently bottomless lungs) gave breath to Mozart's long melodies, earning well-deserved acclaim from the audience.

The orchestra returned to its own resources to conclude the concert with a fine reading of the "Prague" Symphony, K. 504, the last of Mozart's symphonies performed during his lifetime. Tuesday's performance expertly demonstrated the symphony's logical progression from the tightly organized and episodic first movement to a loose and energetic finale. It was not, however, simply an academic exercise: Each new element and entrance had its own emotional character, playing out in a web of moods across the work's half-hour length.

There is much more to come for Mostly Mozart, which runs through August 25. The full schedule is available here.