Virtually every evening at St Martin-in-the-fields in Trafalgar Square there are concerts, mostly of popular pieces – The Four Seasons, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and sometimes well-known choral works – which invariably attract a fair-sized audience to sample what is on offer at this truly iconic church with its magnificent acoustical properties.
No disrespect is intended to those who attend and enjoy such programmes, but they do not often attract seasoned concert-goers. Yet occasionally something will appear which is of greater aesthetic appeal, such as this Mozart programme by the twenty-six-strong Locrian Ensemble under Rimma Sushanskaya, with John Lenehan.
Sushanskaya, the last violin pupil of David Oistrakh in Brezhnev’s USSR, is now making a name for herself as a conductor, including Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony at the Philharmonie in Berlin – and it was clear, from the opening bars of the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, that the Locrian players were responding finely to a true musician’s direction. This brilliant account drew cheers, a notable prelude to John Lenehan, who gave a performance of the ‘Elvira Madigan’ Concerto (a nod to modern-day popularity) that was wholly exceptional. He and the conductor were of one mind; tempos were admirable and the balance exemplary, but the character of this still-not-fully-appreciated masterpiece was laid out before us with a masterly command and insight, made more compelling by Lenehan’s cadenzas – so suited to the work’s expression. This was a performance such as few pianists, no matter how famous, could have exceeded for sheer musical qualities. Lenehan’s encore was the ‘Turkish Rondo’ from the K331 Sonata.
Finally, the enigmatic great G-minor Symphony was also exceptional – not least in a well-nigh-perfect tempo for the second movement, so often taken too slowly, but here – not hurried – it flowed as a stream in Springtime, gently carrying all before it (the anticipation of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony was just one revelatory aspect of Sushanskaya’s interpretation) as a haven of peace between the nervousness and emotional uncertainties of the surrounding movements. The result was a deeply impressive account.