Since his 2002 appointment as Music Director of the Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Louis Langrée has worked closely with Artistic Director Jane Moss. They have brought fresh thinking and much-needed vigor to this series. This fifty-third season Langrée continues his four-summer exploration of Brahms’s Symphonies along with imaginative inter-connected programming.
This tripartite evening, a bicentennial tribute to Clara Schumann, began with a piano recital by Ko-Eun Lee, pairing Clara’s music with that of her husband Robert. It ended with a soirée, soprano Susanna Phillips and pianist Myra Huang performing songs by Clara, Alma Schindler (who would marry Mahler) and Fanny Mendelssohn.
In the MMFO concert Langrée started with a highly dramatic account of the Overture to Don Giovanni, eliciting lean-textured phrases in the grim, glacially slow but gripping introduction. The highly energetic main section was suitably penetrating and pulsing, and the abrupt concert ending – reportedly composed by Johann Anton André at the request of Mozart’s widow, Constanze – came across as especially emphatic.
Then Martin Helmchen played K466. The orchestra’s dark, sotto voce opening soon turned dramatic, and then Helmchen engaged the ensemble in a rapid-fire dialogue calling up associations with Don Giovanni. The central ‘Romanze’ offered comparable drama in the central tumultuous dialogue between soloist and woodwinds, and the dynamic Finale was buoyant and impassioned. Helmchen’s playing – with its beautiful tone, silvery legato, and clear, evenly-executed runs – was magnificent throughout, and his use of Clara Schumann’s virtuosic cadenzas intensified the romantic aspect of the music.
Following intermission, Langrée elicited a joyful and richly textured reading of Brahms’s Third Symphony, a favorite of Clara’s, effectively conveying the music’s emotional intensity. The mercurial opening Allegro was full of fervor, the central movements of richly delicate lyricism, and the restless Finale received an impressively arduous workout before closing in quiet resignation.