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Mostly Mozart: Festival Orchestra Performs Music of Mozart and Tchaikovsky

by Robert Leeper

MMF, Louis Langree

Photo credit: Richard Termine, The Wall Street Journal

A lot has been made of the "newness" of the Mostly Mozart Festival, most recently by yours truly. From FoM to The New York Times, people are spouting accolades for the new-and-improved Festival, and with good reason. Occasionally, however, it pays to step back and let the orchestra run through some works from the handful of composers with which it has traditionally been associated—like last night's concert of Mozart and Tchaikovsky at Avery Fisher Hall. 

The Festival Orchestra delivered an absolutely astounding performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz." The group produced a clean, robust sound, no doubt aided by Mozart's subtle use of horns and percussion. Longtime Music Director Louis Langrée's control over the orchestra was unwavering—able to switch directions on a dime in order to accommodate the abrupt dynamic changes, making the ensemble sound like a completely different group from that which played Brahms on Saturday.

During the Minuet Langrée abandoned his baton, using only his hands to paint the Hayden-esque country dance, emphasizing smooth lines and keeping a light airy feel around the music. Langrée's warm, excitable personality extended to every section of the orchestra, culminating in well-deserved applause—especially for the woodwind and horn sections, who stood at Langrée's beckoning, and received a particularly exuberant cheer from the crowd.

After the intermission Joshua Bell—who is no longer a novelty at Avery Fisher, as he seems to appear on a regular basis—took the stage. He continues to excite the crowd and orchestra, bringing a youthful swagger to all that he does. Despite the occasional comically exaggerated movement, he certainly knows his way around a violin, and brought his uniquely smooth, silky tone to Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. 

Even Langrée—full of vigor earlier in the program—seemed to defer his impassioned performance from the first half to Bell, and seemed as fascinated by him as the rest of the audience. In fact, for most of the first movement Langrée seemed to be conducting only the soloist, ignoring the rest of the orchestra; to their credit, they took it well and provided strong support to Mr. Bell. Langree's electricity thankfully returned during orchestral tutti sections, when the joyful theme pealed forth, leaving Bell to mop his brow and prepare for whatever harrowing passage Tchaikovsky threw at him next. 

The Canzonetta always provides a magical respite after the fervor of the first movement, and Langrée communicated a sincerity sometimes difficult to find in the lushness of Tchaikovsky's scoring. Bell finished out the evening in fine fiddlin' style, though, with an upbeat and exciting finale quickly greeted with adoration from the crowd.

The Mostly Mozart Festival continues through August 24th. Additional information and tickets can be found here.