Mostly Mozart 08 – Opening Concert

Haydn
Cello Concerto in D
Mozart
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Beethoven
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21

Claudio Bohórquez (cello)

Steven Osborne (piano)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Andreas Delfs


Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 10 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This year’s “Mostly Mozart” festival’s opening concert brought an oddly structured programme, which – thanks to the general excellence of the performances – worked rather better in practice than it promised on paper.

Claudio BohórquezHaydn’s D major Cello Concerto was written for Anton Kraft, one of a dynasty of cellists, and was evidently designed to show-off his rich and lyrical upper register to Prince Lichnowsky, his prospective employer in Vienna. It must have been successful as Kraft joined Lichnowsky’s household orchestra/

Although amiable enough in tone and despite its popularity during the 19th-century, it hardly seems the equal of Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto. In the hands of Claudio Bohórquez, winner of the Casals Competition in 2000, it received an agreeable performance, warm and relaxed once intonation had settled, elegantly spun in the Adagio and with a welcome touch of fire in the finale’s minor-key section.

Steven Osborne. Photograph: Eric Richmond Unlike the Haydn, Mozart’s final piano concerto is one of the repertoire’s supreme – albeit more elusive – works. Clifford Curzon recorded it several times, never to his satisfaction. Perhaps, as Schnabel is reputed to have said, some music is better than it can ever be played. The work’s placid exterior conceals depths that do not easily reveal themselves; it is perfectly possibly to give an acceptable performance that glides elegantly across the surface.

This account was considerably more than that but far from the whole story. Steven Osborne and Andreas Delfs cannily adopted flowing tempos throughout, at once relaxed yet forward-moving with the pianist rightly resisting the temptation to over-decorate; when he did elaborate it was tasteful. Yet, whilst everything was in place and there was some fine woodwind detail, there was a touch of prissiness about Osborne’s playing as he picked at the Alberti bass and threaded his way artfully through the first movement cadenza. It was reminiscent of those too carefully reined-in Mozart performances that suggest a well-trimmed yew hedge.

Beethoven’s First Symphony was the evening’s undoubted highlight. Andreas Delfs, recently appointed to the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1900), something not referred to in the printed biography, offered unfussy but thrustful direction, sorting out the wood from the trees as far as dynamics are concerned and – especially for a chamber-sized orchestra – the Academy of St Martin in the Fields responded with playing of quite remarkable weight, precision and fire. This was an absolutely thrilling Beethoven 1 (with all repeats observed), the important pauses being perfectly judged and every note in the scampering trio in place, underpinned by some well-judged high-impact timpani at climactic moments.

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