OAE/Elder – 1 May

Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op.52
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Mark Elder

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 1 May, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

A feeling of disappointment rounded-off this concert. Dvořák’s great symphony never quite took wing despite Mark Elder’s musicianship and some spirited playing. There was a lack of spontaneity. A rather monotonous traversal of this compact if generous symphony emphasised (too much) its pastoralism; thus tragic implications were glossed over and left little to resolve; the music’s scope seemed limited. Maybe, to ’modern’ ears, this was because of the less than full-tones of ’authentic’ instruments, or the lower pitch of tuning, or simply that the music’s darker side was suppressed – probably a combination of all three.

What did emerge though was how naturally balances fall into place with the use of these instruments, and how unforced details can emerge. The use of valve horns, however, didn’t make these instruments any more secure! What was also gratifying is that the musicians never made this symphony sound like Brahms.

An intrinsic regard for texture engaged in the Schumann too, a symphony without a slow movement, yet Elder’s tempo for the Overture’s fast sections was a tad dragging and the whole lacked sparkle, despite a light touch and some wit in the Scherzo. Some of Elder’s phrasal distends, while affectionate, didn’t always allow this composer his whimsicality; there was too much calculation. Coarse-grained tuttis and edgy brass was countered by the use of antiphonal violins, which throughout the concert livened things up in terms of dialogue.

And such aural appreciation is needed for Viktoria Mullova – do not listen with your eyes or you’ll miss her smouldering way with Mendelssohn (or anybody else for that matter); what she does is in her sound, not in her demeanour. The incongruity of her full vibrato, while the orchestra’s strings used degrees of it, aside – good to know that Elder isn’t a total martyr to the cause by ignoring this ’colour’ – she offered incision, dexterity and unforced lyricism. She charged the atmosphere with her familiar interpretation. Elder and the OAE offered a gentle accompaniment, some strands of which could have been in more relief, that was tactile and brought near-perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. Expect a new Mullova recording any day of the Mendelssohn (plus the Beethoven) for Philips.

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