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‘Mostly Mozart’ - Mozart, ‘Posthorn’ Symphony, Violin Concerto in A major; Haydn, Symphony no. 104, Weber, Concertino for Horn in E minor, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, dir. Paul Goodwin; Janine Jansen (violin) Evgeny Chebykin (horn), Barbican Hall, Saturday July 24th 2004 (ME)

 

The Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet (yes, really) having put us in a suitably festive mood, this well planned concert gave much pleasure, even though some of the solo playing was not absolutely top drawer. As with last weekend, the place was almost full, with as mixed an audience as could possibly be imagined, and this time the management got it right with latecomers.

 

We got of to a fine start with the good old ‘Posthorn,’ the ASMF sounding in perky form from the outset, plenty of suitable grandeur on display in the Adagio maestoso and much subtle string playing in the Andantino - it’s a much less demanding work, of course, but you’d hardly think this was the same orchestra which made such a hesitant job of last weekend’s 40th. Perhaps Paul Goodwin had something to do with this, since he’s clearly a conductor with lots of spark – but then he didn’t have to deal with assorted rabble in mid-adagio.

 

Weber’s hugely demanding Horn Concertino provided the very youthful Evgeny Chebykin with the chance to show why he is in such demand after winning the Dennis Brain Prize, and he certainly showed his mettle in that cruelly exposed cadenza: however, he played quite a few notes rather awkwardly and seemed ill at ease in the very lowest passages: he was happier in the more agile parts, especially the vibrant polonaise where the orchestra positively sparkled.

 

Rather more assured solo playing was on offer after the interval, when Janine Jansen performed Mozart’s A major violin concerto. I imagine that a fair percentage of the audience had come to hear (or should that be see?) her – she is of course fabulous looking and has so far managed to avoid being given any ludicrous soubriquets. Clad here in a stunning olive green dress which made her figure look like an art nouveau bud holder, you could almost hear the males all around salivating. Her style is intensely pleasing: not at all showy, not at all over-romantic, she plays this music with the kind of delicacy, understated passion and tenderness which one hears all too rarely either in the concert hall or on disc, and her attention to the detail of the musical line is pleasingly scrupulous – she played the gently murmuring solo line in the Adagio as though she were just inventing it, yet without any undue exhibitionism.

 

Haydn’s ‘London’ symphony rounded off a most pleasing evening. The composer wrote after the work’s premiere in 1795 that, ‘The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made four thousand gulden on this evening. Such a thing is only possible in England’ - a heartfelt statement from a composer delighted to be paid such fees after his more constrained life at the court of Prince Esterházy. This is surely one of Haydn’s most thoroughly satisfying works, and the ASMF played it with elegance and spirit, nowhere more so than in the rollicking Finale, the existence of which seemed to come as a surprise to sections of the audience. The enthusiastic ovations all round were no surprise for this example of decent, lively conducting and playing which would not rank as definitive but certainly more than merely pleasant – which just about sums up this well attended and well promoted festival. The final weekend promises, amongst other works, the C minor Mass on the 29th, Mozart’s 39th on the 30th, and rounds the festival off with Beethoven’s Choral Symphony on the 31st, with post-concert fireworks on the Lakeside Terrace.

 

Melanie Eskenazi



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