The New York Philharmonic seems to have taken as a truth universally acknowledged that you really can't top Mozart, and their season finale concerts are devoted entirely to that composer, pairing the 22nd piano concerto with the Great Mass in C minor. The Beloved Flatmate and I treated ourselves to a summer evening at the symphony. If short on sublimity, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night out. I confess to thinking the orchestra a trifle unfocused at first, but this was soon overcome, and each of the movements of the piano was gracefully shaped, and given with verve. The joyous, light, elegant playing of Emanuel Ax was undeniably excellent, virtuosic without being jarringly showy. ("Without interpretation" was the last thing it was; this description in Mr. Gilbert's program note was meant as a compliment, but jarred. "If 'as if without interpretation' is the ideal," observed the Beloved Flatmate, "what's the point of live performance?" Exactly.) That Ax was so visibly delighted by the music was a delight in itself.
In the second half of the program, the Mass in C minor was carried by the warm, energetic work of the orchestra, and the excellent contribution of the New York Choral Artists (directed by Joseph Flummerfelt.) Gilbert ensured that the piece was given with sustained energy, and without an excess of solemnity; this too has a great deal of what seems to be sheer musical exuberance on the part of its composer. The Choral Artists, too, impressed me greatly: they sang with vigor and expressivity, with excellent diction and conscientious German pronunciation of the Latin (which threatened to go a little too far in the case of the soloists... it's not zolus zanctus.) The demanding first soprano part was taken by Jennifer Zetlan. Although uncertain at first, she came to execute the coloratura with agility. Zetlan's bright, interesting timbre threatened on occasion to become taut and nasal. This may have just been an off-night; I have been impressed by her in the past. Jennifer Johnson Cano also seemed less vocally solid than I've heard her at other times, and I was puzzled by some of her musical choices. At the risk of seeming uncharitable (perhaps she was in emotional distress?) her facial contortions when she was not singing were positively distracting. Tenor Paul Appleby contributed really nice, secure singing, with a complexity to his tone that I hadn't always noticed in his minor Met parts, strength underpinning brightness. I wished there had been more to hear from Joshua Hopkins, who was cultivating a Byronic profile and sang "Benedictus" as though he meant it, in a warm, pleasing baritone. Energetic to the end, the orchestra brought their season to a fittingly joyous conclusion.