Janine Jansen & Academy of St Martin in the Fields at Cadogan Hall – Mozart & Bartók

Symphony No.1 in E flat, K16
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Violin Concerto in D, K211
Divertimento for Strings

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Janine Jansen (violin & director)

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 12 February, 2013
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Marking the conclusion of a tour of eight European cities, Janine Jansen’s Cadogan Hall concert with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields dug up some reasonably rare gems while unconventionally coupling Mozart and Bartók. Mozart-the-child-prodigy and Mozart-the-teenage-instrumentalist were here, though it was left to Bartók to provide the perspective of a slightly softened older composer.

Janine JansenThere can’t be many more conspicuous signs of child genius than a nine-year-old writing a Symphony, and a pretty good one at that. Certainly K16 conforms to the expected structures pretty rigidly, and the sense of the music – phrase by phrase – going on a journey is largely absent. But it genuinely sounds like the beginnings of a personal style and attests to an imagination for unconventional harmony. Any cracks were smoothed by a confident and polished performance – with Jansen directing from the leader’s seat – the Academy still true to the sound captured under Neville Mariner as part of Philips’s epic Complete Mozart Edition while still seeming fresh in a world in which historically-informed-performance holds sway.

Unlike the sequence of 27 piano concertos (one double, one triple), the numbered five for violin are from a single year (Mozart’s nineteenth), representing one particular moment his creative development. It’s thought that he intended to perform them, but his father’s letters suggest that his son was a talented if ill-disciplined violinist. The set contains music of reasonable variety and the pair performed here attests to the simultaneously conventional and imaginative thought to be found in them. The Fifth has earned the name “Turkish” for a rousing episode in the finale – thumped out by the ASMF with string-slapping vigour – that suggests an aggressive style foreign to Austrian good taste. Even more notable is the unexpected depths of the slow movement, which demonstrates Mozart’s characteristic ease in slipping from bright major to subdued minor and back again. The stately D major example is more straightforward and less often heard, perhaps because it doesn’t dabble in the crowd-pleasing exoticism found elsewhere in this output. Jansen’s performance of the two concertos revealed a relatively small tone, though she surprised with moments of extrovert excitement in the cadenzas and finales. She seemed more at ease in K211, but in both she was supported beautifully by the ASMF, its light touch and exquisitely blended sound blowing the dust off these pieces.

A late example of Mozart’s maturing craft would have made for a rounded picture of the composer, but instead Bartók’s Divertimento concluded the programme. Conductor Paul Sacher asked Bartók for something simple. In Divertimento – a genre used by Mozart for many of his lighter pieces – Sacher didn’t quite get what he wanted. Certainly the piece brims with Bartókian energy and rugged folk-like melody. But consider the harmonic violence that spills over into some quite fierce music in the first movement, or the slowly building passacaglia-like tread at the heart of the second – enough to have us cowering in fright. The Academy captured all of this in a gripping and forceful performance. Jansen impressed with gutsy solos and while she was nominally the director, there was a sense of shared endeavour among the musicians. The encore – the finale of Mozart’s Divertimento in D (K136) – felt a little tame, but what chance did it have, following big, scary Bartók?

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