Serenata notturna, K239
Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Op.35
Concertino No.2 [London premiere]
Serenade in D, K320 (Posthorn)
Alain Lefèvre (piano)
Paul Archibald (trumpet)
London Mozart Players
Reviewed by: Malcolm Miller
Reviewed: 18 October, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Hailed as a new Mozart, pronounced a genius by Rachmaninov, and soloist at the age of twelve with the New York Philharmonic in his own Concertino, the Quebecois André Mathieu (1929-1968), a student of Honegger in the 1940s, was set to become a towering figure of 20th-century music, had he not succumbed to alcoholism leading to an early demise. His oeuvre, which runs to over two-hundred works, would still be virtually unknown were it not for the admirable efforts of the charismatic Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre, who has recently made award-winning recordings (for Analekta) and a film (awaiting its UK screening), and who gave a compelling performance of Mathieu’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra No.2, composed when the composer was just five-and-a-half, offered an astonishing musical experience.
The performance formed the highlight of this concert, the London Mozart Players on superb form under its recently appointed Music Director Gérard Korsten. And what a discovery the Mathieu is! Concertino No.2, though quirky, obsessive, and in some ways emotionally simplistic, is thoroughly arresting, expressive and dramatic, its chromatic language clearly of its time, here enhanced by additions to the orchestration by the skilful Gilles Bellemare. The three-movement work unfolds like a firecracker, with a simple ternary form to each movement. In the first, Lefèvre projected the outer sections with fizzing energy, chromatic cross-hand chromaticism leading to a playfully leaping chirpy second subject, more characteristic of a five-year-old, in dialogue with various instruments. Shostakovich’s expansive lyricism is evoked in the Andante, its processional feel of broken chord patterns over a steady pulse, giving rise to a sinewy line based on a repeating motive. Especially affecting was the solo violin’s rhapsody over the piano’s undulating scales, and a succession of solos for flute, bassoon, and cello. In the finale the contrast of Rachmaninovian richness in the piano’s thrusting chromatic theme with a more tripping melody was arresting, Lefèvre rising to a rhetorical peak in the magnificent cadenza that highlighted how far Mathieu had progressed by the age of twelve, when he himself premiered the piece: a mature, serious musical argument built from a compelling rising three-note motif culminating in headlong cascades of double octaves.
Adding an intriguing context to the work was Lefèvre’s virtuoso and witty account of the Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto, composed just a year earlier, in 1933. Lefèvre propelled the work with élan, especially the burlesque-style interjections in the outer movements in dialogue with the outstanding trumpet solo of Paul Archibald. The slow movement was beguiling; Lefèvre’s delicate caressing tone complemented enthrallingly by that of the trumpet and lower strings. Beethovenian intensity in the short third movement led to a zestful finale radiating witty exchanges and mercurial gear-changes aplenty.
The LMP rose to heights of inspiration in the framing works. Mozart’s Serenata notturna (not the one-time advertised Notturno, K286) was imbued with lucid articulation, not least the sprightly Minuet with its unusual solo group of high strings, double bass and timpani. The ‘Posthorn’ Serenade bristled with energy and delicacy, Korsten eliciting pomp and grandeur in the tuttis and delightful concertante woodwind textures in the central movements, an aural feast affirming the LMP’s continuing prowess in the Mozartean idiom.