Mostly Mozart 08 – Joseph Swensen & Leila Josefowicz

Symphony No.33 in B flat, K319
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
The Fair Melusine, Op.32
Symphony No.101 in D (Clock)

Leila Josefowicz (violin)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Joseph Swensen

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 24 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Joseph SwensenApart from major anniversary celebrations, the BBC Proms tend not to go a bundle on the likes of Haydn and Mozart, so the Barbican Centre’s annual “Mostly Mozart” festival fills an important summer niche. First-rate concerts such as this one with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under the sensitive baton of Joseph Swensen, provide welcome opportunities not on offer at the Royal Albert Hall this season.

Dynamic and inspiring, Swensen was nevertheless clearly respectful of the ASMF’s trademark full-toned sound, especially its golden string tone. The stylish performances trod an effective middle ground: neither as brash as period bands nor as lushly indulgent as many symphony orchestras in this repertoire.

The well-balanced programme began with a spirited account of the 23-year-old Mozart’s Symphony in B flat. Though there could have been more sense of abandon, Swensen and the ASMF nicely captured the essence of Mozart’s youthful joie de vivre with a successful mixture of refinement and brilliance.

Leila Josefowicz Leaping forward by nearly 60 years into the Romantic heart of the 19th-century, Leila Josefowicz took the solo role in Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto. She handled the virtuoso writing with skill and flair, though gave a curiously reserved reading – this despite the dramatic drive from the ASMF in the tuttis of the turbulent first movement. Her sumptuously sweet tone was displayed at its most beautiful in the central Andante; though here again there was a slight feeling of emotional detachment. Most successful was the scampering finale, Josefowicz fully engaging with a deliciously light touch, backed by impressively tight orchestral ensemble.

Given free rein in similar repertoire after the interval, the ASMF proved itself capable of greater fire and rhythmic bite in the dramatic passages of The Fair Melusine, Mendelssohn’s overture on the tale of a doomed mermaid who loves a knight. These were contrasted with delightfully atmospheric rippling themes that foreshadow Smetana’s famous depiction of the Vltava.

Haydn’s ‘Clock’ Symphony was the concluding highlight. From the outset – a sinuous introduction played with delicate poise and underlying dark hues – this was a riveting performance of panache.

The lively first movement was an especial joy: lithe dancing passages were treated with an infectious swagger, astonishingly crisp rhythms enhanced by thrilling wooden-sticked timpani-playing. The delicate nickname-giving movement itself was infused with forward momentum and cheeky characterisation, while the unexpected Sturm und Drang outburst was as shocking as Haydn surely intended. The quirkily-accented Minuet had a stylish swing, yet retained its majestic sweep; the rustic trio (controversially faster in tempo) featured a mesmerising flute solo. The Vivace finale provided opportunity for an exhilarating dash to the finish.

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