Review: The Mozart Requiem, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

Saturday, August 20 2015
David Geffen Hall, New York, NY

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langrée, conductor
Concert Chorale of New York
James Bagwell, director

Joélle Harvey, soprano
Cecelia Hall, mezzo-soprano
Alek Shrader, tenor 
Christian Van Horn, bass-baritone

Mozart, Mass in C minor (1782)
Mazart, Requiem (1791)

Oh hi!  It’s been a while.  You know, I had plans this summer.  I was going to catch the NY Philharmonic in the park.  I was going to attend multiple Mostly Mozart concerts.  I was even going to sit through a chamber recital or two.  Well, here we are, nearing summer’s end and I have done none of those things.  What happened, you ask?  For one, for the first time since what seems like a lifetime ago, my beloved Cleveland Indians are having a good summer, and following them has been a time-consuming endeavor (which may or may be detrimental to my mental health as the summer turns to fall).  Secondly, I’ve been traveling every other weekend to catch up with friends from different periods of life, which has been great, but it has also made me crave downtime even more than usual.  Then there was this nagging upper respiratory track infection that I picked up along the way, and I’m not fond of going outside in the summer heat in general, plus there’s the Olympics, so yeah… it’s been so long since I’d gone to a concert that I almost got lost coming out of the subway at Lincoln Center.

Anyhow, the grand finale of Mostly Mozart featuring the stunning Requiem was an event that I would only consider missing over my own dead body.  (No, umm, pun intended?)   I know it inside and out.  Sure, there are many piano concertos that I’ve listened to more often, but the Mozart Requiem is the most complex piece of classical music that I have actually performed.  Back in 2009 I had sung it with the Penn choir (alto, in case you were wondering), and it was a wondrous experience.  I was befuddled by it nearly all semester, but in the final rehearsals it suddenly clicked and sounded like pure genius.  For a piece practically composed for the composer’s own funeral, it is morbidly scintillating.  That’s getting ahead of ourselves though, as I had to sit through the C Minor Mass first.  Missae solemnis, surprise surprise, aren’t my thing.  This one in particular is quite baroque and strangely joyous, but the performance, particularly the choir, sounded a little messy throughout.  David Geffen Hall acoustics are probably never going to be great anyway, though any evening without you wanting to cover your ears at the onslaught of brass winds is a good evening.

I’ve long maintained that if Mozart wrote nothing other than his 23rd Piano Concerto and Requiem, he would still be one of the greatest composers of all time.  Actually, Mozart only lived to see to completion about half of the Requiem.  His student Süssmayr is credited with “orchestrating the Dies irae and Offertorium, completing the Lacrimosa, and composing the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei outright”, according to the program notes.  As many times as I’ve listened to–and sung–the Requiem, the piece has always seemed like a seamless, cohesive whole without any perceptible stylistic shifts from one movement to another.  Whether it was intentional or not, however, Mr. Langrée seemed to conduct two different requiems, one culminating in the first eight gloriously lilting bars of Lacrimosa–the final notes of music of Mozart’s life–and the other thereafter.  It was a bit uneven to say the least.  The orchestra and the singers were slightly out of sync in the beginning, and though Mr. Langrée brought them to the same page toward the end, he conducted the Sanctus and Benedictus in an almost techno fashion.  Honestly, the Penn choir and orchestra’s performance was better, though to be fair we had more than three months to rehearse.  That Mostly Mozart is able to put on such strong programs year after year with only weeks’ preparation is something to be treasured, for sure.

Review: Haydn’s Creation, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

Saturday, August 22 2015
Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Louis Langrée, conductor
Concert Chorale of New York
James Bagwell, director

Sarah Tynan, soprano
Thomas Cooley, tenor
John Relyea, bass

Hadyn, The Creation (1798)

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Mostly Mozart has become more like Hardly Mozart, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  After a busy summer during which I attended only one of numerous worthy concerts in the NYC area, I peeled myself off the couch to catch the final night of this lauded festival.

To be honest, I rarely ever listen to Haydn, or to oratorios, or to anything drawn from the English literary tradition, and I certainly have never heard of even excerpts of The Creation.  They say that music is never pleasurable the first time, which basically summarized my evening.  The three soloists, the chorus, and the orchestra all performed splendidly.  After a year of suffering through the brass section of the New York Philharmonic, I was especially surprised by how good the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall can be.  The score contained long solo phrases for the cello that alone makes Haydn, in my opinion, the greatest Classical era composer for the cello (in an orchestral context, anyway), and flute had some wonderful motifs as well.  Overall, however, I can’t say that I was captivated by the otherwise jubilant piece, though neither the performers nor the composer could be blamed.  The performance elicited the most enthusiastic standing ovation I’ve ever seen in the building, and the conductor made a point to applaud the score–like, literally, he clapped the score.

An amusing/educational side note: like I said, I knew next to nothing about this piece, and upon realizing that the chorus was singing in English, I did a double take to make sure the composer wasn’t actually Handel.  This turned out to be more than a coincidence: according to the program notes, not only was Haydn inspired by Handel, the original libretto was indeed in English and possibly intended for Handel himself.