LMP Handley

W.A. Mozart arr. Lindberg
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat, K495
Leopold Mozart
Trombone Concerto
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Christian Lindberg (trombone)

London Mozart Players
Vernon Handley

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 December, 2004
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

For all his devotion to British scores, Vernon Handley’s repertoire is comprehensive (he’ll tell you that!). Maybe he doesn’t conduct enough ‘core’ music, but when he does, be it symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert (memorable accounts have graced London in the last few years), then one fully appreciates Handley’s selfless musicianship and his ability to create performances that focus completely on the music and bring it alive in a wholly satisfying way.

This was Beethoven’s Eroica, not Handley’s, but the conductor had cleared the path, as it were, for the symphony to express itself and reach its goal. The first movement, perfectly paced at a moderate tempo, the exposition repeat convincingly eschewed, had a long-viewed resolution that was masterly. But then the symphony as a whole was beautifully proportioned and modulated, whether in the light, shade and upsurge of the ‘funeral march’ (relatively swift but deeply expressed), the keenly accented scherzo and the purposeful finale that seemed given in a single breath, the episodes welded, the coda a naturally joyous conclusion.

The London Mozart Players is a true chamber orchestra; its musicians work and play for each other, and there was some distinguished woodwind playing. Handley’s lucid baton allowed the musicians their input and the Eroica shone accordingly. An absorbing account.

Earlier, Christian Lindberg had not been at his best. He lives intently every note played around him, and his dress-sense is personal, but his playing of Mozart junior’s horn concerto here lacked poise and, sometimes, right notes, and the transfer from horn to trombone isn’t convincing. Mozart senior’s original for the instrument is a better piece anyway, with numerous attractions, which Lindberg played with relish if still a little unkempt. Tactful and secure accompaniments ensued.

The concert started with a rarity, E.J. Moeran’s Sinfonietta, music unfairly overlooked. But for conductors like Boult, Norman Del Mar (both recorded Moeran’s Sinfonietta) and Handley, the chances of hearing this music would be even less. (One doesn’t forget Martyn Brabbins’s Proms performance a few years back.) Barbirolli premiered the 1944-composed, three-movement Sinfonietta in 1945. Just occasionally there are dark clouds in the music, wartime premonitions, but this otherwise vigorous and lyrical music, with an Irish flavour to the folk-like melodies (Moeran, 1894-1950, Middlesex-born, was of Irish extraction) is both hugely enjoyable and sophisticated.

It’s a concise work, always engaging, especially when in lyrical and pastoral vein, and the central ‘theme and variations’ is consistently inventive. The uplifting finale either quotes or invents a chorale, something optimistic anyway, and its ‘carol effect’ seemed ideal for this time of year. But Moeran’s Sinfonietta isn’t just for Christmas, and despite the occasional lack of familiarity with the score, the London Mozart Players gave the work a very good shot. Just occasionally Handley could maybe have given the music a little more time, but nobody knows this music as appreciably as he does. Could the LMP instigate a regular Handley series of similar juxtapositions as for this concert? It’s a tantalising thought.

  • Concert repeated at The Anvil, Basingstoke (01256 844244) on 3 December, and at Fairfield Hall, Croydon (020 8688 9291) on 4 December
  • London Mozart Players

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