Opera + Classical Music Reviews

London Mozart Players @ Cadogan Hall, London

8 February 2008

The London Mozart Players’ funding from the Arts Council will be cut from 1 April this year.

The orchestra attracts a loyal following, performs frequently in Britain and abroad and runs various education programmes in troubled communities: the monetary cut is absolutely scandalous.

This concert, under Stephen Kovacevich, was pleasurable but problematic.

Continuing their Beethoven cycle under this conductor, the orchestra here performed the dance-infested Seventh Symphony and the rich First Piano Concerto. Sensibly placed first (not before the interval, as the concert programme anticipated) was the Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2. It is a beautiful composition, warm and poised, never quite climbing out of its shell, but still aesthetically pleasing.

Here, however, the performance did not thrill. There was an aristocratic element to David Juritz‘s violin playing (Juritz is also leader of this orchestra), matching the elegant orchestral accompaniment, but the violinist’s delivery was also lacking strength of character. Intonation could lose its way, various lines straying from the centre of the note, while scalic passages struggled to maintain a steady rhythm and a cleanliness of articulation. Juritz also stood behind a score throughout, communicating little with either his face or his body.

The First Piano Concerto was a more ingratiating experience, but similarly it had its problems. Conducting from the keyboard is never easy, and though Kovacevich led the band energetically, the ensemble balance could have been yet tighter, and various rhythms would have benefited from further clarification. Kovacevich’s pianism was excellent, his secure technique harnessed to a temperamental, firmly Romantic view of Beethoven, drama nourished by a contrast of emotions, snatches of melodic turbulence, lullaby grace and disjointed silence grasping at the seams of the performance. There was, though, a sense of overstatement in the Allegro con brio‘s cadenza, and the Cadogan Hall’s acoustic was unhelpful throughout, inhaling the more overtly dramatic elements of Kovacevich’s reading and exhaling a sound too brash, too overcooked.

This acoustic proved yet more problematic in the culminating performance of the Seventh Symphony, the incessant, obsessive quality of the work almost too much to bear as heard here. However, the orchestra played very well, and Kovacevich knew when to drive hard (the Scherzo‘s trio section) and when to languish in sonic splendour (the melancholic Allegretto‘s opening lines). In the final Allegro con brio, the orchestra displayed a razor-sharpness of ensemble yet communicated admirably a sense of whirling, unstoppable frenzy, the timpanist’s slick, energetic playing rightly given a thumbs up by the conductor.

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