OAE Mackerras

Don Giovanni, K527 – Overture
Bella mia fiamma … Resta, o cara, K528
Concerto in A for basset clarinet, K622
La Clemenza di Tito, K621 – Non più di fiori
Ah! perfido, Op.65
Symphony in D, Op.24

Hellevi Martinpelto (soprano)

Antony Pay (basset clarinet / clarinet)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 October, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Music written for Prague and music by a native Czech made up the OAE’s opening concert of the new season. Sir Charles Mackerras was in business-like form and produced some virile and confident playing from the orchestra. One of the pleasures of ‘historically informed’ performance is the natural balances and pellucid textures, and also the tangy timbres that the instruments themselves produce.

There were though moments during this concert when something more graceful and easeful was craved, and for something less ‘modern’ in conception. The overture to Don Giovanni opened dramatically, with craggy sonorities, brass flaring and timpani hard-edged; then it became a one-track romp. Mellifluous sounds were afforded the arias, not least by Hillevi Martinpelto, who has a lovely voice, one rich and creamy, and warm-sounding in the top register. Yet while her poise and enunciation was admirable, there was also a sense in the Mozart concert-aria and the Beethoven (one of his least inspired works) that she wasn’t wholly inside either work, something made more certain in her more-identified account of the Tito aria, the one she sung without a score, and for which Antony Pay provided a liquid clarinet obbligato on an instrument different to the one he plays as a member of the orchestra, and which is best described as having a kink in it in terms of design!

The Tito excerpt came straight after the concerto, for which Pay used the basset version of the clarinet that Mozart wrote for, an instrument that deals easily with the low notes that Mozart notated. The highlight was the flowing, rather noble account of the Adagio, happily shorn of saccharine connotations, and including a delightfully improvised lead-back to the main theme. Elsewhere, Pay, who played brilliantly, delighted with some witty elaboration, but more relaxed tempos in the outer movements would have benefited the music’s lyricism and pathos.

Jan Václav Voříšek was short-lived (1791-1825). His sole symphony is a mix of early Beethoven, Schubert and, occasionally, his Bohemian background. It’s a pleasing work, at its most inventive in the middle movements, a rather dark Andante with march-like tread and allusions to the Eroica’s funereal movement and a virile scherzo, the trio offering a solo spot for the horn, here the unfazed Roger Montgomery. Maybe Sir Charles drove the outer movements too hard; certainly the second subject of the first movement cried out to be a more-graceful contrast, but if an advert was needed for the OAE’s capability to ‘stick with it’, then the rapier finale was as good as anything, brass whooping it up in the final bars without threatening the ear drums!

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