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Mostly Mozart Festival 2004: Mozart, Sarasate, Kodály, Joshua Bell (violin), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 20th August 2004 (BH)

 

Mozart: Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K. 384 (1781)

Mozart: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A major, No. 5, K. 219 ("Turkish") (1775)

Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 ("Gypsy Airs") (1878)

Kodály: Dances of Galánta (1933)

 

In a mostly welcome respite from an unusually humid New York evening, conductor Louis Langrée demonstrated impressive reinvigoration of this annual corral of Wolfgang Amadeus, pumping in some new artistic energy. I confess that as a listener mostly lukewarm toward the festival’s eponymous composer, the Kodály was the biggest draw for my ears, but the evening was delightfully planned and the festival orchestra sounded downright sprightly.

 

The link between these pieces was their focus on the exotic, with Turkish music enjoying a particularly chic status in the late 18th century, thanks to Paul Schiavo and his usual good notes. The opening overture, so short that it seems over in the blink of an eye, was quite fast and entertaining. Perhaps because I’d been discussing Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony with a friend, I had "triangle on the brain." Its incessant dinging in the last few measures seemed a bit tongue-in-cheek amusing, at least as done here by James Baker, the excellent percussionist. In the "Turkish" concerto, Joshua Bell offered a lyric mood, with an appealingly mellow cadenza, and even I could appreciate the work’s somewhat surprising conclusion, in relative serenity. Bell is confident, good-looking, and seems to travel with his own cheering section, which whooped it up after he finally put down his instrument.

 

After intermission Mr. Bell returned with Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, which in other hands might have succumbed to saccharine excess, but Bell played it relatively straight, and brought out the work’s gypsy effects with keen intonation – including some glistening harmonics. I confess that I probably won’t seek out his recording, or anyone else’s, but I enjoyed the moment and his clean, soulful performance.

 

The last fifteen minutes of the evening upped the electricity even more. Kodály’s Dances seesaw back and forth between nostalgic rubato and bracing, Bartókian angularity, and here Langrée seemed to really relish the chance to cut loose a bit, with the chamber-sized strings responding with precision and ferocity. The final few measures were really taut, with the buzzing result knocking around in my head long into the evening, and clarinetist Jon Manasse received several well-deserved ovations for his deliciously languorous solos that interrupted the more frantic moments. Despite this work’s popularity I don’t recall ever hearing it live, and if I had been able to do so, I might have sneaked in the next night at about 9:15 p.m. to hear it again.

 

Bruce Hodges



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