Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mozart Unwrapped (3): Joshua/Aurora Orchestra/Collon, 9 March 2011

Hall One, Kings Place

Le nozze di Figaro, KV 492: Overture
‘Non più. Tutto ascoltai… Non temer, amato bene,’ KV 490
Symphony no.27 in G major, KV 199
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, KV 546
‘Bella mia fiamma, addio… Resta, o cara,’ KV 528
Symphony no.31 in D major, KV 297/300a, ‘Paris’

Rosemary Joshua (soprano)
Thomas Gould (violin)
Aurora Orchestra
Nicholas Collon (conductor)


Let me get my one real disappointment out of the way: Nicholas Collon opened this latest instalment in Kings Place’s ‘Mozart Unwrapped’ season with a breathless, hard-driven Figaro overture. It was very well played indeed by the Aurora Orchestra, even if the kettledrums boomed a little loudly in the Hall One acoustic. Yet in this, the overture to that most human of all comedies, it sounded as though the sole purpose was to despatch Mozart’s notes (too many?) as quickly as possible, the composer’s smiling replaced with an extended grimace.

Thereafter, however, Collon relaxed, and his uniformly excellent band of young musicians truly came into their own. Rosemary Joshua joined them for two items. The first was an insertion aria for Idomeneo, ‘Non più. Tutto ascoltai… Non temer, amato bene’. From the opening of Mozart’s rich recitativo accompagnato, the orchestra pulsated with Gluckian drama. Wonderfully ripe woodwind distinguished themselves. There was, moreover, fine flexibility on display from orchestra and soloist. Leader Thomas Gould, who had distinguished himself in an earlier concert as concerto soloist, provided silvery violin obbligato. Joshua stood quite beyond reproach in terms of clarity of line, diction, and delivery of coloratura. It was a little odd, during the recitative, to hear her assume the roles of both Ilia and Idamante, but that was not her fault. ‘Bella mia fiamma, addio! … Resta, o cara,’ is a bona fide concert aria. If anything, it proved even finer. Flexibility was once again commendable, as was the genuine pathos Joshua brought to the vocal part. Mozart’s chromaticisms here are as erotic and as threatening of tonal disintegration as anything in Tristan und Isolde; however, they held no fear for our soloist. The final climax was impressively and expressively despatched.

Surrounding that aria in the concert’s second half were the great C minor Adagio and Fugue for strings, and the Paris Symphony. The former’s Adagio was given a rhetorical account, in which rests were truly made to tell. It is not the only way to perform the music, and I could not help hankering a little after the majesty of Karajan (especially in Vienna); nevertheless, the strings dug deep in a performance that sounded closer to chamber than orchestral music. The fugue had more than a hint of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, not least in the threat of disjuncture: nothing comfortable here. The Paris Symphony was, of course, written for a much bigger orchestra than the Aurora, something about which the ‘authenticists’ tend to remain silent, but there is no need to be fundamentalist: in a small hall, a small orchestra can work well. The first movement benefited from not being rushed; again, it was somewhat rhetorical in tone, but never irritatingly so. There were several instances of illuminating musical detail, not least the development’s clarinet imitation of the celebrated opening coup d’archet. The slow movement – Mozart’s original, as is usually performed – was pleasant, if not always probing. And one could forgive the driven nature of the finale, for it was despatched in style. This is, after all, Mozart showing off to the Parisians, and revelling in the skill of the great orchestra of the Concert Spirituel. As ever, the players of the Aurora Orchestra delivered with verve.

For me, however, the earlier performance of the G major symphony, no.27, was finer. During the opening movement, great care was taken with varieties of articulation, without descending into fussiness. Mozart, one sensed, as in the later Paris Symphony, was relishing the delights of the orchestra, albeit a smaller band. Minor mode vehemence was present in the development without the grotesque exaggeration that disfigures so many ‘period’ accounts. Above all, there was that truly Mozartian joy that had been remarkable by its absence in the Figaro overture. The second repeat was taken: unnecessary perhaps, but one could understand why the players might have wanted to give us the music again. Andantino grazioso was not an inappropriate marking for what we heard in the slow movement: it was certainly graceful, and if the walk was a little on the brisk side, it never turned into a canter. Rhythms were nicely sprung, and the quiet passages truly made one listen. The fugal opening of the finale is a rare case of Mozartian awkwardness: it seems unmotivated, though the later fugal treatment works much better, even seeming prophetic of mature masterpieces. It was brilliantly performed, the violins in particular truly scintillating. Quite properly, the opera house never sounded distant.

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