Le tombeau de Couperin Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 Lennox Berkeley
Serenade for strings, Op.12 * Mozart
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Ernst Kovacic (violin)
City of London Sinfonia
Nicholas Ward (violin) *
City of London Sinfonia/Moldoveanu 14 April
Monday, April 14, 2003 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Richard Hickoxs indisposition brought to the podium the graphic conducting gestures of Nicolae Moldoveanu rarely has a conductor cued more instrumentalists in the time allotted, shimmied, or hurled himself into his task with such abandon. Full marks for commitment. Whether though the Mozart was anything more than a flurry of activity is debatable. Fast speeds the order of the day, Moldoveanu did coax some appealing lyrical asides in the Andante and made a convincing case for abandoning courtly resonance in the Minuet, which was charged through and aggressively accented; Mozarts exploration of the symphonys tragic potential had no let up.
Yet, while variety of vibrato (including none) mixed the colour palate, it did so somewhat schizophrenically, while dynamic changes (forte questions, pianissimo answers) utilised an interpretative tool. With more than an element of pinning the listener against the wall, Moldoveanu didnt so much illuminate the music as have it leave its corner, gloves flailing for the knock-out punch. In using the original version, that is before Mozart added clarinet parts, Moldoveanu either inherited Hickoxs intentions or went his own way; the programme note didnt report Hickoxs preference.
Allowing the G minor is more austere as initially penned by Mozart, Moldoveanus exhausting rather than exhaustive rendition fell into a groove authentic momentum and Romantic asides that never quite gelled; this stratagem palled before the end.
Similarly, Ravels tribute to fallen friends in World War One was not especially far-reaching; spirited and sensitive, also somewhat graceless, Ravels watchmaker precision was not always in sync and sometimes disrupted by tempo retards that may have signalled expressive largesse but also detracted from Ravels very private sense of loss. Some deft playing aside, Moldoveanu rather stressed the musics mechanics.
The Mendelssohn was big and beefy rather than suave and elfin. Good to hear Ernst Kovacic in something not written for him. Nothing rose-coloured about Kovacics approach, this was somewhat strenuous in execution, and rather tightly phrased; there seemed a pedagogue standing near Kovacic to ensure the letter of the score was observed. The cadenza brought some fantasy, and the slow movement flowed delightfully to create another song without words.
This year marks the centenary of Sir Lennox Berkeleys birth. While he is too good a composer to need such timing to get his music played, at least things are gathering momentum not least from Chandos. The Serenade, ably directed by CLS leader Nicholas Ward, is an early example of Berkeleys craftsmanship whether in its vigour, dark-hued elegance or hauntingly beautiful envoi, Berkeleys amiable and touching expression makes this a gem of a piece. More Berkeley from the CLS on 30 May.