More Mozart!

Symphony No.34 in C, K338
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
La finta giardiniera – Vorrei punirti, indegno
Ch’io mi scordi di te, K505
Symphony No.38 in D, K504 (Prague)

Lars Vogt (piano)

Véronique Gens (soprano)

Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra
Ivor Bolton

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 28 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Can one have too much Mozart? Two full concerts on two consecutive nights is as good a test as any and the answer would seem to be that Mozart is fairly indestructible. It should be stated from the outset though that this second concert was on nothing like the same level as Herreweghe and his forces the night before. Of course, with Salzburg’s Mozartean connections, expectations were running high – too high, it turns out.

Why Mozart’s C major Symphony is one of the lesser known ones has long been a mystery to me. Because it’s without a nickname? (So is No.39, though, amongst many others.) Whatever the reason, it is a crying shame that this work does not get out more. It is also a crying shame this was not a better performance…

The first thing to strike the listener is the warmth of the Salzburg strings; the second the lack of precision ensemble. Indeed, ensemble problems were to blight the string contribution throughout this symphony. The slow movement seemed to indicate that the orchestra had not counted on the Royal Albert Hall’s cavernous acoustic – muddied textures abounded. Even the finale only tended towards the opera buffa without fully evoking it.

The German pianist Lars Vogt (coming armed with his own cadenza) gave an ultra-sensitive account of the C minor Piano Concerto. Here is a pianist unafraid of fining down his tone to the lowest pianissimo. Wind soloists excelled here, and Vogt’s cadenza flowed nicely, not departing hugely from Mozartian boundaries (a passage with left-hand trill acting as foundation for right-hand contrapuntal writing was effective). If only Vogt had not pecked at the staccato of the finale.

A nice touch after the interval – the orchestra members as they entered threw what looked like Mozartkügeln at the audience. Unfortunately the sweets did not reach the back of the stalls!

Véronique Gens was the main appeal of this concert. Her Donna Elvira on the Opus Arte DVD of “Don Giovanni” (OA 0921 D) was a delight, both musically and visually. The aria from “La finta gardiniera” found the orchestra supplemented by harpsichord continuo. Gens projected to perfection, identifying with the text to no small degree (a woman suspecting unfaithfulness on the part of her lover). Even better was the Concert Aria, in which Gens was joined by Vogt. If he was perhaps a touch too free rhythmically, it was not enough to upset the Gensian apple-cart. Gens sung with such tenderness, and was able to sustain a line in the most magical of fashions.

The final item was the ‘Prague’ Symphony, which emerged at least with less damage than No.34. The gentle, siciliano-like sway of the slow movement was appealing to begin with, although there was not sufficient magic to take away the impression that the movement was simply too long. As an encore was the Andante from the Cassation in C major – by Mozart!

A mixed experience, then, Gens the undisputed redeeming feature in a Prom that so often was mundane.

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