London Firebird Orchestra/Achim Holub at the Actors’ Church – Mozart with Marc Corbett-Weaver & Lisa Rijmer

Lucio Silla – Overture
Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K467
Le nozze di Figaro – Eh vieni non tardar
Il re pastore – Di tante sue procelle
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Marc Corbett-Weaver (piano)

Lisa Rijmer (soprano)

London Firebird Orchestra
Achim Holub

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 6 November, 2012
Venue: St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London

Achim Holub. Photograph: fireworks might have been the previous night, but Achim Holub and his merry band of 22 players in the still-new London Firebird Orchestra managed a few indoor musical pyrotechnics in this nicely judged Mozart concert at what must be London’s most welcoming church, St Paul’s, Covent Garden – although given that it’s the actors’ church, a warm welcome is perhaps not that surprising.

The LFO, co-founded by pianist and artistic director Marc Corbett-Weaver and Holub, has had a successful first year, with five London concerts, of which this was the last, before returning next year. Betweenwhiles Corbett-Weaver plays a charity recital for the LFO at St George’s Hanover Square on 12 February, and this concert’s respective halves were preceded by appeals for supporting the orchestra as well as repeated statements that the American election had had an effect on the audience (why, when the result wouldn’t be known until well after the concert had finished?). Happily such references to mammon (however necessary) did not overly distract from the main purpose for being there – the music.

With just four first violins, three seconds, two each of violas and cellos and one double bass, there were times when the string sound was undernourished; not – perhaps perversely – in the loud passages (the opening of the Overture was rich and full), but rather in the softer, higher reaches for the violins, where the sound could, even though hushed, could have had greater more unanimous sheen. Holub has a clear beat, without exaggeration. Baton-less, his style is unflashy and calm, simply extending an index finger to indicate entries. And he obviously commands respect with his players.

In the concerto, Corbett-Weaver, slightly off-centre at the Fazioli piano (Fazioli is one of the orchestra’s named supporters), sitting right behind Holub, created difficulty in direct communication. He gave a bright, brittle rendition of K467 – the odd inclusion of an operatic reference to (presumably, his own) first-movement cadenza notwithstanding, which jarred – and Holub elicited some fine wind interplay, all the players, including horns and trumpets, in one line. At times the piano drowned the small complement of strings; a better position for the piano, so that conductor and soloist could communicate, might have provided a more interactive performance.

After the extended interval, Lisa Rijmer was better placed to communicate with Holub for two arias, confusingly discussed the wrong way round in the brief programme note. Rijmer had the right idea in turning back the clock from Susanna’s slow nocturnal aria to the earlier one from Il re pastore. In the former the wind shone, accompanying Susanna’s slow paean to the joy coming her way, while the strings surged in fullness (belying the numbers) in Il re pastore, Rijmer soaring in Tamiri’s aria expressing her relief at fear turning to happiness.

Best of all was the performance of Mozart’s final symphony: a reading of clarity and energy that amply illustrated its masterpiece-status, Holub secure with musical architecture and obtaining exceptional playing.

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