The overture came second and the concerto first in this concert from the London Mozart Players.
For me, such a thing is foolhardy – there is no more arresting way to open a performance than with those huge, resonating chords at the start of Beethoven’s opener to Egmont.
But then the work was here given such a committed, vibrant ensemble performance that I hardly had time to sulk. It turned into the perfect orchestral showpiece to send one humming into the bar.
The orchestra has much beef in its sound, and all of Beethoven’s emphatic, throbbing fortes were tossed off by the brass and timpani with surprising spontaneity. Comparatively, the woodwind’s consoling antiphonal responses seemed a tad heartless, but every player made sure to retain a mellifluous, vibrant texture throughout.
This was where Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony lost points. The Allegro con brio needs a lot of work from both conductor and orchestra to prevent the infamous, banging motifs from sounding trite: here I could have done with more colour and dramatic contrast. There was the odd effective argument between biting horns and fluid woodwind soloists, but the low strings lacked elemental thrust.
And the Finale, for all its majestic drive, missed in its vast C major tuttis that cutting, razor-sharp edge that is so crucial. Without precise lines to offset the movement’s great weightiness, Stephen Kovacevich‘s interpretation could feel crass. But the Scherzo was a fascinating exercise in dramatic contrast: most effectively, the dangerous, wickedly pacy fugal passage collapsed to the floor and gasped for life by means of sinister bassoon offerings.
Meanwhile, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto warmed from an overly pushy start to provide many thrills. The Andante con moto‘s surprising string unisons were purposeful and meaty; Kovacevich’s touch on the piano was nimble and he thrashed through the first movement cadenza with enthralling storminess; the Rondo was sublimely held back by both soloist and orchestra. But the Cadogan Hall is not the best place for a piano and harsh sonic reflections off every surface amplified the pianist’s uneven line in runs and a tendency to overpedal. Not a defining performance then but, as with the concert, it passed the time admirably.
Stephen Kovacevich’s Beethoven cycle continues over the year.