London Mozart Players

Schnittke
Moz-Art à la Haydn
Mozart
Symphony No.14 in A, K114
Serenade in D, K250 (Haffner)

David Juritz (violin)

London Mozart Players
Isabelle van Keulen (violin)


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 15 July, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

In the beginning was darkness … and silence. But, gently, there became audible little string phrases, like a growing dawn chorus of Vivaldian birds. By the time the stage lights came on, the cue for a tutti chord, we were in the middle of one of Alfred Schnittke’s Mozart-inspired ‘games in music’. Here it was Moz-Art à la Haydn, his 1977 version stemming from a surviving sketch of Mozartean pantomime music (K461d, from 1783) the reference to Haydn embodied in the ‘Farewell’ Symphony-like disappearing of the non-seated players at the end, with the final bars once again returning to ‘snippets in darkness’.

There’s something about Schnittke that transcends the gimmick, and this spirited performance (no half-pressure on the strings here!) was a good reminder of his unique way with the music of the past: definitely not pastiche! There was a further element of the visual, obviously unseen by listeners to BBC Radio 3 (although what seemed the unnecessary intrusion of added reverberation wasn’t lost on the ears! – Ed.) where rather noisily the violins and violas of the London Mozart Players rearranged themselves – here in a long line behind solo violinists Isabelle van Keulen and David Juritz – for the slower central section.

By the time we got to Mozart proper, I had only one complaint – that the curtains, necessarily drawn to achieve the blackout in which the Schnittke began and ended, were not opened to allow the beautiful July sunlight to shine through. That’s not to say there wasn’t enough sunny atmosphere engendered in the playing of the London Mozart Players, but one of the glories of Cadogan Hall is that during an afternoon (even an evening performance in summer) the natural light negates the use of electric light.

Other than that, there were no cavils at this Proms Saturday Matinee inaugural concert. There are four this year – spaced two weeks apart – and the London Mozart Players made a very welcome return to the Proms fold. Indeed, the Saturday matinees have been specifically created to celebrate British chamber orchestras (the Academy of Ancient Music, Britten Sinfonia and Orchestra of St John’s follow).

With a sound rich and buoyancy but not without a satisfying bite, the performances of Mozart’s A major symphony (catalogued as number 14) – finished on 30 December 1771 and generally considered to be the first in which he showed his true promise – and the Haffner Serenade (from five years later) tread a satisfying line between the old-style big-boned and heavy-handed style of Mozart and period instrument ‘authenticism’. It was a perfect blend, with Isabelle van Keulen as soloist in the ‘violin concerto’ that forms the second, third and fourth movements of the eight-movement Serenade.

As the first of many Mozart-themed 250th-birthday Proms concerts this season, this matinee concert set the benchmark high for others to match.



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