by Angela Sutton
Lincoln Center photo
With a partially apt, partially grim choice of programming, Saturday's final concert of this year's Mostly Mozart Festival began with a melding of works by J. S. Bach (chorales from the St. John Passion) and Swiss composer Frank Martin - five chorales serving as interstices between Polyptyque's six movements.
Martin's Polyptyque, a 1973 Menuhin commission based on Duccio di Buoninsega's paintings of the Passion at the altar of the Siena cathedral, features a solo violinist with double string orchestra in a taut but pungent score. Described as "cinematic" in the program, the sound world of this work shares much with mid-century film scores, its harmonies becoming crunchier in the dramatic images and more widely spaced and placid in the sacred portions. As both this work and Bach's are Passion stories, a certain alliance seems possible. Certainly, the sturdy Bach chorales shone as exaltant reflections on the (often dark) drama of the Martin work surrounding them, especially given violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja's glassy, sharp-edged tone (wearing for long periods). It wasn't clear, however, that the Martin benefitted from being broken up in this manner - the last two sections, 'Jugement' and 'la Glorification', have their own internal contrast which was inevitably lost with a chorale stuck in between.
By contrast, the performance of Mozart's Requiem that followed was excellent, beyond question. The Concert Chorale of New York did great work here, showing a fine range of sound and attention to detail. Conductor Louis Langrée kept everything moving along at a good clip, which only served to heighten the music's drama and contrapuntal energy. Unfinished as it is, the 'Requiem' score is an invitation to tinkering, from which Langrée himself is not immune. Although there is probably no saving the Süssmayr-composed 'Sanctus' from its brassy, simplistic view of salvation, the remainder of the score did not fail to command attention. Until next summer!