Now in its fourth and final week, the Mostly Mozart Festival welcomed one of the biggest names on its lineup, Joshua Bell, to Avery Fisher Hall as guest soloist. Music Director Louis Langrée conducted the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in a program of Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Alongside a number of other more varied symphonic programs and the contributions of the International Contemporary Ensemble, this was surely one of the festival’s most conservative concerts, but Mr Langrée and Mr Bell made no apologies and let their artistry say everything.

The two works on this program shared even more than a sunny disposition. They were both written extremely quickly, for example, although for different reasons. Mozart wrote his “Linz” Symphony on five days’ notice, as he had no original work with him while visiting a count in the city of the work’s nickname, and was expected to present one on short order. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, while also written very quickly (11 days plus some time to complete the orchestration), was produced more in a burst of inspiration. He was in the company of his composition student, violinist Yosif Kotek, and enjoyed an unusually hardship-free period in a Swiss resort town.

Both Mozart and Tchaikovsky were influenced by their contemporaries in these works, too. Mozart had been developing personal acquaintances with the Haydn brothers, Michael and Joseph, and familiarity with their works. The “Linz” Symphony indeed displays the latter brother’s sense of humor, pastoral simplicity, and sonata-form style: rather than the profusion of melodies typical of Mozart, “Linz” often feels closer to the monothematic sonata movements of Joseph Haydn. Tchaikovsky and Kotek spent a great deal of time sightreading together during their visit, and it seems that some of the violin concerti Tchaikovsky was hearing for the first time spurred him to try his hand at one. Here, unlike in the Mozart symphony, the influence was more in the impetus to start writing than in style; the Violin Concerto is emblematic of Tchaikovsky.

The artists’ conceptions of these two pieces helped to differentiate them and avoid letting the evening become one large blur of major-keys. Mr Langrée, conducting from memory, projected tranquility and charm. He led his players with big ideas and broad brushstrokes, and while the orchestra was generally responsive, I suspect that with a group that plays together for more than a few weeks per year, the results would have been really special. The Andante second movement, whose lilting siciliano rhythm and melodic contours Mozart used shortly afterward in his Piano Concerto in A major, was serene and weightless. And in the third movement, whose humor is more Haydnesque than Mozart’s usually subtle wit, the string section adopted bowings that emphasized the disorienting (and funny) cross-rhythms. As an opening half with the Tchaikovsky concerto to follow, this was a smart programming choice as well as a lovely performance. I found myself able to appreciate this symphony for what it was – unassuming and graceful – rather than feeling it failed to live up to some larger artistic purpose.

Mr Bell then delivered an electric Tchaikovsky concerto. He has surely sounded more polished than he did on Tuesday evening – there were minor blemishes but no huge issues – but this was a throwback to an era of personality-first playing. While he tended to favor brisk tempi that proceeded to get faster, it was always out of a sense of genuine excitement rather than fast for its own sake. In lyrical sections, Mr Bell seemed to take the reins as he led Mr Langrée (who was phenomenal in role as conductor) and the orchestra with an aristocratic and flexible rhetorical style. I rarely consider hearing a concert program two nights in a row, and even less often would I care to hear the same staple concerto of the repertoire twice in the same month. If I hadn’t already made plans for Wednesday evening, however, I would have considered going to hear Mr Bell again. He conveyed such a sense of spontaneity, with no note overly precious or ponderous, that you could easily imagine him playing the piece differently, and with equally convincing power.

The realities of contemporary performance culture – limited rehearsal time, jet-setting conductors and soloists, last-minute substitutions – tend to engender in musicians an approach to their craft that ensures the highest possible baseline standard of technical proficiency. This is all well and good, but interpretive daring often takes a back seat. To experience a pair of performances driven by the opposite set of priorities, with the music itself placed front and center, was a delight. And there was perhaps no better way to finish a late-summer evening than with Tchaikovsky’s Melodie, offered by Mr Bell, Mr Langrée and the orchestra as a blissful encore.

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