Mostly Mozart Closing Concert

Mozart
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Beethoven
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Catrin Wyn-Davies (soprano)
Jane Irwin (mezzo-soprano)
Peter Hoare (tenor)
Alan Opie (bass)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Jaap van Zweden


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 31 July, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

In an exciting finish to the month-long “Mostly Mozart” series of concerts at the Barbican, a capacity audience enjoyed a crisp reading of Mozart’s Linz Symphony followed by a flawed but ultimately successful performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony.

Mozart’s Symphony No.36, nicknamed ‘Linz’ because he wrote it (in a few days!) for performance in that city on his return from Salzburg. It’s a masterpiece of structural clarity and originality, though still owing much to Haydn and C.P.E Bach. The slow introduction opens out into a spacious Allegro; the Andante is full of Viennese grace and charm; the mock-militarism of the Minuet is deflated by the more subtle textures of the Trio, and the Presto finale brims with invention.

Jaap van Zweden led the St Martin’s Academy through the architecture of this piece with great precision – no rough edges here. The first movement was driven inexorably towards its final cadence with one eye on the metronome; the Andante was all lightness and elegance; the Menuetto and Trio was all dance and wit; and the Presto was light and fast: though this did not preclude considerable drama being generated in the development section.

Twenty minutes and a strawberry ice cream later: Beethoven 9. I began to ponder the possible relationships between the ‘Linz’ and this existential pile of a piece. They both have nicknames? Haydn was a mentor, albeit in different ways, to both Mozart and Beethoven? Or perhaps the Mozart was merely a pleasant entrée to the main course? Either way, the most significant contrast was in the performances of the two works. Although the Mozart could not have been more perfect, there was a failure to engage either the intellectual or the emotional faculties to any great extent.

The ‘Choral’ proved a whole different ballgame. A very brisk tempo for the first movement with rhythmic punctuation highlighted at every turn and out-of-tune horns suggested this would be a patchy performance. But what an exciting one! The storm and stress of the Allegro made way for the impish intensity of the scherzo, the transparency and flexible pulse of the Adagio, and culminated in the final movement with all its protagonists vying for glory. These qualities more than compensated for the often-messy ensemble work, the over-stretching of the chorus and some of the soloists, both vocal and instrumental, and the sometimes exaggerated musical rhetoric. Timpanist Tristan Fry made a significant contribution.

Jaap van Zweden has recorded all the Beethoven symphonies – expect a review soon.

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