Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival has undergone an overhaul. The decades-old formula of familiar classics has been updated and expanded to include international dance and theater productions, as well as a stronger focus on more-contemporary music. The “Americans in Paris” theme of this concert offered a salute to the Leonard Bernstein centennial celebrations, Louis Langrée and the MMF Orchestra opening with a joyful and rhythmically seductive account of the brilliant Overture to Candide.
Next, Emanuel Ax delivered a tender and highly expressive rendering of Mozart’s mercurial G-major Piano Concerto, a piece that Bernstein particularly loved. Ax’s rendition, using Mozart’s cadenzas in the first two movements, had all of the artistry and elegance expected. Langrée and the MMF players immediately caught the intensity of his interpretation, giving excellent and loving support throughout, the woodwinds especially rapturous in the Andante. As an encore Ax delivered a wonderfully engaging account of Chopin’s radiant A-minor Waltz (the second of the Opus 34 set).
Following intermission, more Mozart, a rarity: the C-minor Adagio and Rondo. Inspired by Marianne Kirchgessner, a young, blind virtuoso on the glass harmonica, Mozart composed two pieces for the instrument in his final year of life. The instrument is the piece’s link to the concert’s theme. Benjamin Franklin, the great American polymath and the first US Ambassador to France, invented the instrument, and an original of the Armonica (as he called it) remains at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In this performance the dreamy and celestial effect Mozart no doubt intended was achieved by the splendid soloists.
The final offering was a dazzling outing for George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, using a recent edition including more-dissonant taxi horns. While listening to the 1929 recording, in which Gershwin played celesta, it became clear to Mark Clague that the tunings were not the pitches the composer intended, and he has also made other emendations and a few cuts (see reviews below). Gershwin’s intended boldness was highly apparent in this characterful, wonderfully upbeat reading. And there was more. Langrée announced that the musicians had conceived a version of Walking the Dog from Gershwin’s music for the 1937 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance. For this lighthearted piece, supplementing the dog-walking shipboard sequence on the main character’s trip from Paris back to New York, Langrée took a back seat while six MMF principals gave a joyous rendition of this promenade, clarinetist Jon Manasse making the most of his role.