Mostly Mozart takes on Rossini’s Stabat Mater

disclaimer: ad for a different concert.

I promise I won’t start this Mostly Mozart review with a note that their recently-vaunted innovation is, in most concerts, invisible. This hook has proven awfully popular.

This was a concert of Rossini and Beethoven. (This year’s theme: Mostly Mozart and Beethoven. It’s… sorry, almost got pulled by The Hook again.) There was a preconcert concert by the Dover String Quartet, which featured the daring choice of Beethoven’s Op. 59/2. Further innovation!

Sorry, Mostly Mozart Festival. You just make it so easy. And the Dover Quartet was excellent, with a nice lightness and dynamic range. The first violinist’s super-bright E string seemed distractingly unblended at times.

Anyway, the main concert. It was conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, who seems to be Italy’s cosmic conducting recompense for Daniele Gatti. Together they average out into normal tempos–Gatti is glacial, Noseda just drank a whole case of Red Bull. But Noseda got considerably more out of the orchestra than Louis Langrée did at the opening concert. The orchestra’s sound still lacks body, but in the opening Beethoven Symphony No. 2 (hey, at least it was slightly obscure Beethoven!) they played with much greater accentuation and color. The Larghetto was more like an Andante, and the winds made some welcome contributions. The final two movements were also breathless, occasionally a little scrappy but excitingly so.

The main body of the program was Rossini’s Stabat Mater. It’s a grand piece of music, and not one set to a text you’d expect to be so red-blooded, but that’s the most obvious thing to say about it and I don’t really have any wisdom to impart on this matter. Noseda didn’t seem to feel any need to make it sound like Palestrina, it was big and loud and fast and not very subtle but on the whole quite good. The chorus was the Concert Chorale of New York and they sounded fantastic, with better blending and ensemble than the orchestra by a long shot.

The soloists were a good group. Soprano Maria Agresta has a glamorous sound with a fast vibrato, consistent and very Italian with strong high notes. (This reminds me how infrequently we actually hear Italian sopranos today.) But she lacks a degree of refinement, tending to sing everything forte with minimal phrasing. The Inflammatus is pretty loud, and the high notes made it exciting, but I could have used something more nuanced at times. Also in the brutal force category, Gregory Kunde belted out the Cujus animam and landed square on the high note with great strength. But his tone is leathery and unpleasant.

The lower voices were more satisfying. I may have gone to this concert mostly to hear mezzo Daniela Barcellona, after liking her so much in La donna del lago at the ROH. Actually, I totally did. And she was great, with a dark, plangent sound, of course less fiery than she had been in the other Rossini but singing with great expressive intensity. Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen sounded excellent in the Pro peccatis and the recit, booming out with impressive power. I wish he got better casting at the Met.

So on the whole a satisfying concert, though I wish Noseda had stopped to smell the flowers occasionally.

Program Notes Smackdown
I haven’t done one of these for a while but there are a few bits of Andrew Shenton’s notes with which I have to take issue. On the Rossini:

“It is too tempting to be engaged with the drama of the music and the virtuosity of the singing and playing rather than the meaning of the text.”

Yes, the perceived disparity between text and expression is an interesting, if obvious crux. Why don’t you discuss it instead of scolding your audience for doing it wrong? (Is it just me or does this sound like a Calvinist sort of complaint? This music is Catholic!)

On the Beethoven, he quotes Maynard Solomon calling the symphony “both retrospective and progressive.” Then he says how:

“Its retrospective elements are the orchestral form… four movements with a slow introduction… its prospective features begin with the arresting introduction, marked Adagio.”

Wait, what?

Also, this program is getting out of control with regard to sections. There’s a note on the preconcert concert, a welcome to the festival from the artistic director, a program note on the whole festival, a one-page “program summary” note and then the proper program notes. If you got that far. This has been another episode of Program Notes Smackdown.

 Mostly Mozart Festival, 8/14/2013, Avery Fisher Hall. Gianandrea Noseda, conductor, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with the Concert Chorale of New York (directed by James Bagwell).

You may also like