Mozart Revealed

Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Iván Fischer (presenter)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 12 December, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The genesis of this event was the comment of a first-time concert-goer some while ago to Annette Isserlis – a violist in the OAE. While the person had enjoyed the music, there was too much to take in. Isserlis then initiated the notion of a concert focusing on a single work – a new venture.

What should be its form? In a stately manner, they’d examine one movement at a time – commentary, including musical excerpts, would precede performance of each movement whole. As a result, at this presentation, Iván Fischer took us through the symphony’s first two movements before the interval and the final two after it.

Iván Fischer enthused over the collective originality of Mozart’s last three symphonies. Symphony No.41 is multi-faceted. Annette Isserlis adds, “it is a piece to which the OAE’s period instruments bring enhanced clarity and vivacity, through the transparency of the gut strings and vivid colours of the original wind and brass instruments”.

Preparing for the concert was unusual, too. Ferenc Rados of the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest led masterclasses with OAE players and then joined Iván Fischer during full orchestra rehearsals. An OAE member spoke of Rados’s extraordinary gift for conveying structure and expression through harmonic comprehension.”

The Queen Elizabeth Hall was packed. The format – or the novelty – evidently met demand.

Ivan Fischer captivated the audience through his light, easy style, with a minimum of formal analysis. In a gentle, ingratiating Austro-Hungarian accent, he pointed to a ‘masculine’ opening to the symphony, a ‘feminine’ response and the exchange that ensues. He told us how Mozart donated a comic aria to an opera by Pasquale Anfossi (1727-1797) and then retrieved it, subjecting it to extensive development during the symphony’s first movement. With the relish of a diseur, Fischer recited the laughable text, first in Italian then in English – to soulful cello accompaniment. The spirit of Victor Borge hovered close. The andante cantabile was more ‘feminine’ and ‘operatic’; halfway through some rather splendid darker emotions glowered.

Fischer explained the Minuet visually. Nicola Gaines, dressed as a grand lady, demonstrated the sedate, characteristic steps of the minuet at an 18th-century Viennese court, with Fischer following Gaines’s movements. We looked at Mozart’s much faster Minuet and still faster trio, showing the steps such speed entailed. Fischer introduced the finale as a brilliant fugue, containing at least five fragmentary themes, one taken from the ‘Gloria’ of a mass. With mock self-deprecation, he confided that the various reshaping and resizing of these themes whizzed past him too fast for him to pinpoint and identify them.

The OAE’s playing glowed. Obviously, the players were enjoying themselves, responding enthusiastically to Fischer. Preparing for this concert had been a demanding activity, yet was relaxed and extempore. Apparently, the presentation’s style and emphasis had changed with each rehearsal. I suspect that Fischer’s commentary had been increasingly honed down, to retain only what was essential and comprehensible. The OAE sustained each movement with operatic verve. Strings surged busily into the ether. Horns, trumpets and thundering timpani rose with loud, imposing gusto to climaxes that could only impress. Flutes and oboes trilled a ‘feminine’ rustic, while lively bassoons burbled a ‘masculine’ bucolic.

Rightly, the applause was joyous.

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