Mostly Mozart 08 – Martin Fröst Plays Mozart

Mozart
Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Beethoven
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36

Martin Fröst (basset clarinet)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Garry Walker


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 18 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A similar pattern of programming to that in the excellent opening concert of this year’s “Mostly Mozart”, a ‘late’ Mozart concerto and an early Beethoven’s symphony. Unfortunately second helpings seldom taste as good, and so it proved.

Martin Fröst. Photograph: Mats BäckerThe workaday reading of the Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” (chosen by audience vote) gave a fair indication of things to come, not a dynamic to be heard, the music hustled along and consistently too loud. With the arrival of Martin Fröst, playing a basset clarinet, there was no doubt as to the centre of attention for he is not short of charisma. He pranced and preened as part of an affected performance; Fröst consistently interpreting the music as a peg for a series of extravagant rhetorical gestures designed to draw attention to himself. Every opportunity for garlanding the solo line with an encrustation of decoration was eagerly seized upon. At least the outer movements sped by swiftly whereas the slow movement opened at a throbbing mezzo forte before an exaggerated pianissimo reprise and a seemingly endless cadenza.

The most engaging music-making came with the two encores, a manic Klezmer-inspired piece called “Be Happy”, despatched with supreme aplomb, and a hypnotic slow song for clarinet – title unannounced – accompanied by a single held cello note. Pure magic!

Normally one can find at least a redeeming feature about a performance, even if there happen to be aspects with which one disagrees. Unfortunately Garry Walker’s reading of Beethoven’s Second Symphony had very little to commend it, doubly unfortunate given the quality of the forces at his disposal. The deficiencies would merit a review in themselves but the overriding impression was that this account proceeded on auto-pilot with a complete lack of clearly terraced markings, no distinction being made between forte, ff or sf. It was like being obliged to consume a plate of porridge without salt! The slow movement, taken flowingly, also showed reluctance to draw any clear distinction between detached and slurred notes. The scherzo made nothing of the cross-rhythms whilst the finale was so hectic that it completely failed to generate any genuine momentum because the tempo militated against clarity of execution.

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