Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Aimard

Mozart
Symphony No.29 in A, K201
Piano Concerto No.19 in F, K459
Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271 (Jeunehomme)

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)


Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 28 September, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the first solo pianist for the Ensemble InterContemporain – Pierre Boulez appointed him when he was only 19. Later, he recorded Ligeti’s piano works. Even more recently there has been a CD of Mozart piano concertos on which Aimard conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe from the keyboard.

At this concert the symphony was a most curious, wilful affair. It set the tone for the evening – a miscellany, illustrating many of the styles in which Mozart might be played. It began in a scurrying whisper, closely followed by an extremely loud repeat of the theme, a volley of rifle-fire. This is a mannerism I could do without. The music lends itself to contrasts, but not to such extremes of volume. The device was even less convincing during the repeat, when those loud passages sounded yet more uncouth. On neither occasion did there seem a valid musical purpose in using this particular stratagem – and it certainly was neither elegant nor exquisite.

In a similar device the orchestra played sforzandos abruptly, jerkily, loudly, abrasively. These interventions were treated as quite pointless, musically. ‘Viennese’ moments gave us snatches of seductive, lilting melody, sotto voce. There were brisk, forward-thrusting ‘brilliant Mozart’ moments, too – and the occasional piece of out-door, peasant galumphing. With so much stylistic variety being thrown around, there was no chance of becoming bored. I simply grew irritated at the pointlessness of the stylistic inconsistency.

The concertos came off rather better.

The piano had no lid, presumably enabling the conductor to gain a better view of his fellow musicians (and they of him). An intriguing feature of this set-up was a new device from Steinway – a series of six adjustable sound reflectors fitted across the piano frame and the strings (and a transparent music prop on the piano). The device – aiming to project the sound over the performer’s head towards the audience, worked most effectively.

The two concertos were for the most part rather jolly affairs. Everything went with a swing. Aimard enjoyed pushing the sprightly music along, caressing the well-known melodies while passing, giving a virtuoso flourish or two and making a flamboyant blur of scale and arpeggio passages. His occasional passages of elegance and grace served to highlight those denied these qualities. The cadenzas had authority without much charm. The slow movement of No.19 received a powerful and lugubrious introduction belying the relative light-heartedness that followed. We received due notice that we could be affected by the slow movement of the ‘Jeunehomme’, if we cared to. The last movement of this work was a rip-roaring affair however – riotous and exhilarating.

Throughout the orchestra sounded rather good – plugging expertly away in the manner instructed. My one cavil over orchestral balance was that the three double basses were one too many.



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