[Broadway World] MOSTLY MOZART Opens with Totally Terrific Focus on Young People’s Chorus

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Music Director Louis Langrée. Photo: Kevin Yatarola

Richard Sasanow, Jul. 29, 2017

Last year was filled with scenes from Mozart’s best loved operas offering great singing by star soloists.

 This time around, the accent was on youth, with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, led by Francisco Nunez, turning in spirited performances of everything from Mozart’s Kyrie, K. 90 (written when he was 16) to Brazilian folk songs, American spirituals and a new arrangement of “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman,” better known as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (though also done as a set of variations by Mozart), along with works by Mozart and Beethoven. (In other words, the program was totally enjoyable but something of a mishmash.)
Whether singing a capellain the evening’s brief (just four minutes), crisp opener (the Kyrie) or with the spirited Mostly Mozart Orchestra behind them, the members of the chorus–some as young as 8, through teenagers–were wonderful. The group offered the audience heartfelt, passionate singing, tightly rehearsed with wonderful clarity. Nunez prepared them so finely that even the youngest in the group seemed like seasoned professionals. (As master of ceremonies, following Bernadette Peters who had the chore on the previous evening, Nunez was somewhat less assured, which had its own charm.) I particularly enjoyed the traditional Brazilian pieces (“Tres Cantos Nativos dos Indios Krao”) and “Ah, vous…”–as well as the Kyrie, but it was exciting to hear their excellence throughout.
I’m sure that the treatment of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony (No. 35 in D)–presented in three pieces, separated by songs, as it might have been in the composer’s time–looked better on paper than it was in performance, though none of it was the fault of the orchestra. Langree drew a smart, lively reading, particularly in the Menuetto and Prestomovements that completed the piece.

The major piece of the evening was Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 80. It drew not only on the orchestra and youthful chorus but a host of others as well: There was the superb, fleet-footed work of the exciting pianist, Kit Armstrong (an ‘old-timer’ at 25), a group of polished soloists from the opera world–soprano Brandie Sutton, tenor Jack Swanson, bass Adam Lau and, especially fine, soprano Janai Brugger and mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano–and the more mature ranks of the Concert Chorale of New York, under James Bagwell.

The final piece of the evening was Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow,” from CANDIDE, in a rich, soulful rendering that drew upon all the forces present. The song has taken on a new life in these depressing political times; it would be good if someone in the tone-deaf White House were listening.