Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Mozart Birthday Weekend – Concert 2 @ St John’s, Smith Square, London

28 January 2006

The second offering of the London Mozart Players’ Mozart Birthday Celebration weekend was a slightly mixed bag. The problem was in the programming which, despite being challenging, juxtaposed two undoubted masterpieces with a rarity that didn’t quite come off. The orchestra’s commitment was never in doubt, however, nor was that of the LMP’s Principal Conductor, Andrew Parrott.

The first half of the concert was a sheer delight, matching and perhaps even surpassing the achievements of the first concert in the series. The G minor symphony, K183, is familiar from the film Amadeus, and here it received an urgent reading from Parrott. In particular, the turns in the opening theme stabbed through the air with the amount of emphasis they gave it. Their attack was equally brilliant in the final movement. And the Minuet and Trio presented a microcosm of contrasted intensity and frivolity, though the second slightly lacked clarity.

The highlight of the weekend so far was Michael Collins‘ sterling performance of the Clarinet Concerto, K622. It is one of Mozart’s final pieces, and is a masterpiece of the highest order, even for him. The first movement had a joie de vivre about it that drew smiles from the whole audience. Collins’ eager communication with the conductor allowed exciting risk-taking that drove the musicians’ virtuosity to the limit. Lyricism and exquisite phrasing characterised the second movement, whilst the third combined cheekiness, technical finesse and a synchronisation of purpose between orchestra, soloist and conductor.

After the interval, Parrott had decided to perform the incidental music and choruses from the play, Thamos, King of Egypt, K345. In place of the play, the actor Alex Jennings read out a condensed narration. But not even his worthy efforts could overcome the fact that the plot is even more stupid than many operas of the period, and the score consists mainly of interludes of rather similar, if attractive, substance.

The three big choruses are claimed to foreshadow those of the much later Magic Flute but lack the control and invention. Jeremy White was the excellent baritone soloist, but the Tallis Chamber Choir was lamentably out of tune some of the time, especially the brief section for individual soloists picked from the choir. Some of the orchestration is inventive, and the strings worked hard to propel the piece forward, but with so many masterpieces to choose from, why pick this?

A very mixed evening, but nevertheless enjoyable.

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Mozart Birthday Weekend – Concert 2 @ St John’s, Smith Square, London