Mostly Mozart

Die Zauberflöte РOverture
Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K467
Exsultate, jubilate, K165
Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (Paris)

Jonathan Biss (piano)

Sally Matthews (soprano)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 9 July, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Major-key Mozart, an idyllic summer evening, a full house, and a well-loved combination of conductor and orchestra. It would be idle to pretend, however, that the terrorism of two days previously did not impinge on thoughts, although perhaps Mozart at his most celebratory was just what was needed. Sir Neville Marriner’s vitality is astonishing. He conducted this concert and had opened this year’s “Mostly Mozart” festival the night before with Haydn’s “The Creation”: not bad for a chap of 81!

Lest anyone imagine that the Academy is an enlarged chamber group, on this occasion it numbered 50 players. This was entirely appropriate since the ‘Paris’ Symphony was written (in 1778) for “Le Concert Spirituel”, the largest string band Mozart had had the opportunity to write for. One minor quibble. Rather than dividing the violins left and right, Sir Neville had them all seated to the left. I suppose there is a musical argument for this since the ‘Paris’ makes much use of massed violins.

The evening got off to a fizzing start with a performance of the Overture to “The Magic Flute” notable for precisely observed dynamics and some crisply assertive timpani-playing from Tristan Fry. Jonathan Biss, a Leon Fleisher pupil, then gave a fluent K467, slightly marred by an overlong first movement cadenza but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable for its unfolding chamber-music conversation. The C major concerto is one of Mozart’s grandest; seldom does this it receive such subtle or equal treatment from soloist and orchestra. Marriner’s skilled hand was much in evidence.

Sally Matthews was the stylish, exuberant and communicative soloist in “Exsultate, jubilate”. Here Sir Neville should have dropped a desk from each section of the strings, Matthews struggling slightly in the opening movement to ride the orchestra. However, she came fully into her own in the serenely beautiful “Tu virginum corona” and the uplifting final “Alleluja”.

The three-movement ‘Paris’ Symphony is one of the least-played of Mozart’s works, possibly because it demands virtuoso playing, which on this occasion it received in spades. From the opening coup d’archet, an upward sweep from the violins, one sensed that the Academy had fully hit its stride. Not the most profound music, Marriner made the best possible case for it with crisp and forceful string playing and elegant, plangent woodwinds in the slow movement: a perfect antidote to the troubled world.

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