Generally, I just don’t see much point in reviewing regular television broadcasts of concerts. Just as in the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts, television sound depends on a phalanx of electronics, and on technicians and mixers whose efforts occupy a distinctly different universe than live sound in a hall. And just as in the Met HD broadcasts, too many visual details can end up distracting one from the real purpose of the evening—the music.
However, l was so taken with last Wednesday’s broadcast of Live from Lincoln Center on PBS, that I felt I should make an exception to my rule. This being August, it was a concert from the essential Mostly Mozart Festival in New York: Louis Langrée conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra performing works of Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. In this case, I feel completely confident in saying I would have been as taken by the live performance as I was with the broadcast. Of course, it is quite impossible to judge the finesse of most of individual and section playing; even sloppy entrances can avoid detection. And I will avoid commenting on that. But the overall spirit of a performance cannot generally be mixed away and that is exactly the beauty of what made it through the television screen.
Although violinist Joshua Bell was the featured soloist of the evening, the performances of the other works stood equally on their own. The evening opened with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D (called the “London”). Langrée breathed life into the work, proving my long held contention that Haydn can be just as entertaining as Mozart, sometimes more so. Sadly, too many Haydn interpretations are dull and lifeless. Not Langrée’s. He filled the work with dynamic contrasts and timings that took the work to another level.
Bell then joined the orchestra for two short works by Mozart: the Adagio for Violin and Orchestra in E (K. 261) and the Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in C (K. 373). However, his real contribution to the evening was in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. His performance was nuanced and virtuosic…of course we would be surprised at anything else.
Langrée opened the second half with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture in a great interpretation that brilliantly accomplished Mendelssohn’s intention of conveying the atmospheric Scottish coast. Although people are fond of pointing out Mendelssohn’s part in re-vitalizing Bach among those who had quickly forgotten, Mendelssohn was quite upfront about admitting his musical debt. With the two Mendelssohn works on the program, I need no further justification in my continued belief that Mendelssohn stands equally with Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.
As if it really matters.