With humble beginnings over half a century ago, the Mostly Mozart Festival has steadily evolved into an increasingly ambitious summer music celebration, with this season’s month-long offerings including not just a generous sampling of its namesake composer, but also dance, theater, film and new music. Friday evening’s performance was firmly in the former category, however, concluding the festival with Mozart’s mature masterpieces – principally the Requiem, his incomparable final statement. Leading the Festival Orchestra was Louis Langrée, who has served as its music director since 2002.

Louis Langrée © Mostly Mozart | Jennifer Taylor
Louis Langrée
© Mostly Mozart | Jennifer Taylor

Despite the familiarity of the bulk of the program, the evening opened with a true rarity in the brief Meistermusik, a work once thought to be lost. A piece that acknowledges Mozart’s embracement of Freemasonry, it became the basis for the (comparatively) better-known Masonic Funeral Music (K477). Unlike the later work, Meistermusik includes scoring for male chorus. Matters began somber and stentorian, with hollow winds encouraged by insistent strings. The chorus was awe-inspiring in its directness of expression, closing this forgotten gem in sonorous resound.

The Piano Concerto no. 21 in C major fleshed out the remainder of the first half, bringing pianist Stephen Hough in the spotlight. A graceful introduction exuded the charm of an opera buffa with the piano’s entrance one of flowing elegance and thoughtful phrasing. Beneath the sunny charm, there was an underlying urgency as the music turned towards the minor, bringing out a drama that came not from outburst but from introspection. Hough, an accomplished composer in his own right, supplied original cadenzas; while certainly displaying his digital dexterity, the deep expressiveness made the lasting impact. 

The Andante opened in heavenly song, played with the lyricism of an aria over an undulating accompaniment. This texture was in due course imitated by the piano, with Hough and the orchestra in deft balance and chamber-like intimacy, each note in this sparse writing having depth and meaning. A bubbling effervescence initiated the finale, an affair which proved joyous through the end, and Hough’s cadenza again fitted the work while adding appropriate flair. 

There was hardly a more apposite or satisfying work for the festival’s closing weekend than the Requiem. Joining the orchestra was a very fine quartet of vocal soloists and the Concert Chorale of New York under the direction of James Bagwell. The unnervingly hollow textures of the Introit opened the work in a pensive drama, later tempered by the warmth of the solo clarinet and the gorgeous tone of soprano Jodie Devos. The Kyrie exuded a pointedly-executed contrapuntal rigor, leading to the red-hot intensity of the fiery Dies irae. Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green sang with imposing depth in the Tuba mirum in dialogue with the solo trombone, while the more lyrical tenor of Andrew Stenson and Jennifer Johnson Cano's rich alto served as a fitting foil.

The Confutatis maledictis was marked by a jarring contrast between the initial relentless drive and the utterly angelic sounds of the choir; the Lacrimosa opened with a gentle sigh that burgeoned into the depths of profundity. The nervous energy continued in the Domine Jesu, notable for its defly sculpted crescendos. The following Hostias was a more hymnal affair, buttressed by organist Kent Tritle, and the Sanctus was striking in its sheer glory. One was quite taken by the natural chemistry of quartet of soloists in the Benedictus, and matters once again turned darker in the somber Agnus Dei and the valedictory Lux aeterna. Wistful and reflective, Devos and the solo clarinet were prominent in evocation of the work's opening, and the full forces were rallied for a conclusion of arresting contrapuntal might.

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