Saturday, August 25, 2012

Closing Night at Mostly Mozart

Louis Langrée, conductor
Martin Fröst, clarinet
Layla Claire, soprano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Paul Appleby, tenor
Matthew Rose, bass
Concert Chorale of New York
James Bagwell, director

MOZART: Clarinet Concerto (1791)
BEETHOVEN: Mass in C major (1807)

Mostly Mozart ended its season with a program featuring Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven's Mass in C major.

The concerto has been one of my favorites ever since I first heard it in the film Out of Africa. The Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst gave a splendid account, clearly articulating the bass, alto, and soprano voices of his instrument in a way that suggested murmured conversation or even lovers' vows. The second movement was lovely - it bloomed like a rose and Fröst's wistful recapitulation of the opening theme was almost heartbreaking.

For an encore Fröst played Giora Feidman's spirited Let's Be Happy as arranged by his younger brother, Goran Fröst. The jazz rhythms provided a nice contrast to Mozart and Fröst seemed to relish playing the piece. The applause from the audience was deafening.

From the 1790s to 1800s, Prince Nicholas Esterhazy II commissioned a new mass to be performed on the Sunday following the name day of his wife, Princess Maria Elisabeth. Haydn, who was Beethoven's teacher, handled these assignments until Beethoven received the commission in 1807.

Beethoven's first liturgical attempt was structured within the framework of the ordinary mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo. Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei). Esterhazy, however, was flippantly dismissive of the high seriousness and reverential orchestration of the work, and the offended composer refused to dedicate this piece to him.

The Mass is rarely performed nowadays since it has been overshadowed by Missa Solemnis and the composer's late masterpieces. I felt blessed to have heard this Mass in a live performance. The choral writing is glorious and the Concert Chorale sang magnificently. The parts for soprano, mezzo, tenor, and bass seemed more integrated with the chorus (compared to Mozart's Requiem and Mass in C minor anyway) but Layla Claire, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, and Matthew Rose nevertheless sang with clarity and passion.

In both pieces Louis Langrée conducted the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with true elegance and refinement. He will be the new music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra next year. They are indeed lucky to have him.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:00 pm in Avery Fisher Hall.

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