Mozart in Paris

Don Giovanni – Overture
Serenata notturna, K239
Flute Concerto in D, K314
Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (Paris)

Lisa Beznosiuk (flute)

The English Concert
Andrew Manze (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 29 June, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Mozart’s amiable volubility suits Andrew Manze, a performer who wears his considerable erudition lightly and whose musicianship allows him to talk through his instrument as easily as through verbal means. He is above all a communicator, and the basis of his style is a quasi-improvisational exposition of what he feels to be the most significant aspects of a particular piece: its idiom, its reason for being, and its promises for the future.

Andrew Manze worked his subtle alchemy to dazzling effect in a programme comprising Mozart’s chiaroscuro overture to Don Giovanni, the impish Serenata notturna, the loquacious Flute Concerto, and the ingratiating Paris Symphony. The dark opening chords of the overture set not only the tonic landscape for the piece but also the orchestral sonority for the evening (though thankfully not the mood!): a velvety string tone tempered by astringency; a warm, variegated wind sound; a glorious rusticity in the brass. Manze drove the orchestra from the shade of the Andante into the sunlight of the Allegro with lots of exciting gear changes along the way, bringing out the dramatic implication nicely.

The Serenata was a delight, with the continuous dialogue between the tutti and concertante sections giving rise, under Manze’s direction, to many humorous exchanges, not least the wonderfully witty timpani cadenza in the finale – a rallentando vanishing into silence before a perfectly timed return of the main theme which had many in the audience laughing out loud!

I was not so taken with the concerto, due to Lisa Beznosiuk’s prosaic approach. Despite fine passagework and a warm, attractive tone, she made heavy weather of it. Manze and the orchestra did what they could to lift the mood, but it never really got off the ground. Most successful was the Adagio, where the opening chords seemed to both recall and negate those opening the Don Giovanni overture, and where Beznosiuk’s straightforward style suited the simple melodies and graceful sentiments of the music.

As a prelude to the symphony, Manze revealed the circumstances attending the composition of the work and read excerpts from some of Mozart’s letters from the time; this was followed by a performance of the symphony’s original Andante movement. Then to the symphony proper: an exciting Allegro with Manze getting full value from the tutti sections and antiphonal effects between the horns and trumpets; a luminous (second) Andante with beautifully shaped phrasing in the strings; and a furiously fast-paced Allegro. This was all-stops-pulled-out playing from Manze and his band: deliberate theatricality for music written to appeal to the (according to Mozart) less than subtle tastes of the Parisian audience. It makes one feel a little uncomfortable to enjoy it so much – a guilty pleasure perhaps.

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