Mintz Mozart

Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218
Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K219
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

English Chamber Orchestra
Shlomo Mintz (violin)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 February, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A few niggling things slightly undermined this concert. One was the tardy start-time (not untypical in London these days); why a handful of players can’t enter on time (7.30) rather than several minutes later when the stalls-only audience has been seated, waiting, was a finger-tapping question. Not affecting me directly, but of interest, was the cost of the ECO’s programme, a whopping £3 for a few pages. And in the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony, there were several outbursts of drilling from somewhere vague outside of the auditorium; that this occurred a few bars into the first movement and was still evident in the finale suggests that no Barbican staff heard it or were motivated to curtail it.

Musically, the ‘Jupiter’ was flawed by Mintz’s excision of the second-half repeat in the finale (i.e. a second chance to hear the development and recapitulation before the exhilarating fugal coda). Having taken every repeat until then, Mintz lost one of the most important (and surprising) repetitions in any classical symphony and totally undid a generally likeable reading, one with a convincingly spacious first movement (itself marred by a false horn entry just as the development started) and a spectral, quasi-operatic Andante cantabile. However, the minuet was a bit twee and the (foreshortened) finale needed greater dynamism and, frankly, a few more string players – two double basses, a total string complement of 24, just isn’t enough in a hall of this size. And, surprisingly, David Corkhill’s hand-stopping of timpani notes was quite audible; better to leave the resonance, surely?

The first half was altogether more satisfying, the number of players being ideal, the pairs of horns and oboes admirable throughout. This concert was the London leg, a pit stop, on a 20-concert, 26-day European tour that began in Frankfurt and will end, on 12 February, in Florence. Presumably all the concerts are of Mozart, given that Mintz has recently recorded Mozart’s violin concertos for Avie. A gruelling schedule, one imagines, and maybe a surfeit of Mozart – although the ECO’s playing here suggested no such thing, being consistently attentive and stylish.

Shlomo Mintz is not a regular visitor to London – which is a shame, for he is a musician that comes without baggage. His back-to-back renditions of these two Mozart concertos returned this music to an era of time-taken elegance while being the antithesis of ‘period’ performance – there was plentiful vibrato and not one rough sound was heard. With consistently measured tempos, shapely articulate phrasing, and with no need to intervene on the music’s behalf, these were totally trusting, rather genial accounts. Mintz’s choice of cadenzas (unspecified in the programme) was somewhat anachronistic, though, and the Adagio of K219 was a little angular of phrase. Rarely was the surface ruffled; a drone effect (immaculate double stopping from Mintz) made its bucolic effect and the occasional digging into the string also made an impression – for its novelty. Otherwise, there was much to relish in the gentle way that this music was projected; renditions unencumbered with an agenda to authenticate, traditionalise or lecture on – music-making of simple faith and inner conviction, which should have already recorded very nicely.

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