At Mostly Mozart, a Grand (Albeit Truncated) Finale

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Despite the ominous impending effects of Hurricane Irene—which included a preemptive subway shutdown, mandatory evacuations and two twentysomething women engaging in a slap fight over the last box of Lärabars in the Upper West Side Food Emporium—a healthy, almost full house converged for the final concert of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival (a repeat performance, scheduled to go on tonight, has been cancelled along with countless other events in the city this weekend).

There was a small sense of finality; should the city be wiped off the face of the earth this weekend, the last live music some New Yorkers will have heard would be the foreboding trio of Stravinsky’s In memoriam Dylan Thomas, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem. However, in that oh-so-New York, resolute way, conductor Louis Langrée and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra were welcomed warmly and eagerly as they took the stage of Avery Fischer Hall last night. If we were going to go down, we were going to go down with three of the most glorious composers in the canon.

Joseph KaiserBookending a deep and soulful read of the Schubert that balanced both the intelligence and sensitivity central to the composer’s work were two vocal pieces that featured a total of four up-and-coming soloists whose combined potential and promise carries a gale force. Joseph Kaiser (pictured), making his Mostly Mozart debut, sang Stravinsky’s setting of Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” with a sweet yet complex tenor that explored the entire context of the words and music, even lending a bit of Bob Dylan growl to the more raw parts of Dylan Thomas’s text, particularly in a chilling line-read of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Far less stark was Mozart’s Requiem, given a crisp and brisk performance that lasted under an hour at the hands of Langrée and the Concert Chorale of New York’s director James Bagwell. Most auspicious here was the U.S. debut of 21-year-old Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva, whose clarion voice shown through as clearly and purely as a sunrise, particularly in a luminous “Lux aeterna.” 

However, with a sacred work like Mozart’s Requiem, the true star is the music, glorifying something higher than any form of human sound. As such the blending of the four soloists was impeccable. In “Tuba mirum,” each singer passed the solo thread seamlessly from bass to soprano, creating a gleaming pure line. While Lezhneva is doubtlessly a singer to watch, she did not outshine (yet nor was she outshined by) the bright-voiced mezzo Kelley O’Connor. O’Connor has similar powers of vocal illumination, yet rather than blasting through clearly, it comes refracted through the multifarious colors of a stained glass window, prismatic and lustrous. 

Kaiser was once again in fine form and bass Morris Robinson had a stentorian vibe and soulful momentum. Perhaps one of the most entertaining visuals of the evening was watching Robinson during the moments in which he did not sing as he blissed out to the work and mouthed along with some choral parts. You could have pressed the “mute” button on the entire performance and still have followed along with ease watching the music unfold across this powerful bass’s face.

The Concert Chorale of New York sang with vigor and grace, though occasionally in the more heated and chaotic parts—such as the feverish “Confutatis,” their diction got somewhat muddled. No matter in the long-run, however: With Mozart’s hopeful, at times even soothing, posthumously-completed death mass (a work that may not rage against the dying of the light but still goes more convicted than gently), you can see why one may be so willing to enter the afterlife shepherded by such music—especially at the hands of these artists.