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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Dieter Flury (flute), Charlotte Balzereit (harp), Wiener Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Barbican Hall, 16.12.2005 (GD)



Zubin Mehta and Die Wiener Philharmoniker visited the Barbican Hall as a part of the Great Performers Series to play an all Mozart programme – music tailor made for this great orchestra. Indeed, as it turned out the VPO played as if on auto-pilot paying scant attention to their conductor who seemed at times to get in the way of the music making: the VPO could have easily played the entire concert without a conductor.

Mehta delivered an unusually bland and pedestrian performance of the playfully buoyant Symphony No. 1 in E flat, K. 16, composed when Mozart was nine. The first upbeat in the allegro molto was peculiarly unincisive and rhythmically slack. The following andante despite fine horn intonation simply sounded stodgy and dragged and the high-spirited concluding presto just rambled on with no sense of grace or lilt. The similarity between the four note configuration in the andante and the four-note motif from the finale of the last symphony formed the linkage logic of the programming although this was not particularly apparent in a performance that simply lacked a sense of contour and contrast. It is said that both Toscanini and Beecham, in their different ways, conducted this piece with great gusto and panache, a quality sadly lacking tonight.

It was the rather self-important Comte de Guines, an amateur flautist, and his harp-playing daughter who commissioned Mozart to compose the charming Concerto in C for Flute and Harp, K. 299. It is a measure of Mozart's genius that he could compose a beautifully integrated concerto with simplified but elegant parts for soloists of accomplished but modest musicianship.

Again, Mehta conducted in a rather perfunctory manner missing many a more subtle point in which this score abounds. The woodwind did not dialogue with the soloists as they should in the andantino. It was in the andantino that I noticed that the members of the VPO hardly looked at Mehta at all taking their lead from other corresponding leader sections of the orchestra. Charlotte Balzereit played her harp part with a touching and nuanced delicacy which, however, was not matched by the VPO's lead flautist Dieter Flury whose tone was strident and whose articulation was somewhat stiff and inflexible. Throughout, Flury did not dialogue with Balzereit in the way the music asks: he might have well been playing at another venue so distant was he from her and the VPO.

Like in the Symphony No. 1, I was initially a little confused as to whether or not Mehta was attempting a quasi 'period' style of performance in the Symphony No. 41 ‘Jupiter’ in C, K.551. As in the earlier work he deployed various sudden de-crescendo's-crescendo's, and used ‘period’ hard timpani sticks - albeit to little effect. Mehta’s ‘Jupiter’ was essentially string-orientated and streamlined with woodwind, brass and timpani being too submerged, negating the cutting dissonances inherent in the music.  In the extended first movement development section the important woodwind and horn parts were barely audible.

I remember a London performance of the work by the LPO under Eugen Jochum where this concerted detail was beautifully and clearly delineated.  Mehta seemed unable to adopt an initial tempo corresponding to the movement’s metric structure. The andante cantabile singularly lacked a sense of cantabile line. Mehta failed to make the mezzo-forte recitatives (which contour the shifts in the tonal spectrum) cohere with the overall metier. The insouciant and swaggering menuetto failed to make its unique effect with the trio section lacking a sense of playful contrast. The contrapuntal miracle which is the works final started promisingly, a true molto allegro. The VPO's string section managed this fast tempi with amazing virtuosity. But by the beginning of the complex and extended development section with its abrupt tonal contrasts one had little sense of the cumulative power of the music.

And despite a fine horn and trumpet entry at the start of the coda, the most powerfully economic in all symphonic music, the coda itself failed to make the effect it can make when linked to the motivic structure of the whole symphony. Mehta resorted to the bad old tradition and inserted an unmarked ritardando onto the very last chords of the concluding triumphant cadence.

As a predictable encore Mehta gave us an appalling account of The Marriage of Figaro Overture. It was crudely bashed out with smudged and congested woodwind accompanied by rather ham-fisted, heavy sounding accents. The overture’s famous concluding crescendo of themes under Mehta simply became louder with the final chords thumped out. The rather disinterested applause of the capacity audience mirrored the orchestra’s indifference to Maestro Mehta.

Geoff Diggines


Further listening:


Mozart: Symphony No 1 E flat K 16, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor): Telarc CD-80300.

Mozart: Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra in C major K 299, Robert Wolf (flute), Naoko Yoshino (harp); Concentus musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor): Teldec 3984-21476-2.

Mozart: Symphony No 41 in C major, K 551, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor): Teldec 9031 75861-2.

Mozart: Symphony No 41 in C major, K 551, Die Wiener Philharmoniker, Otto Klemperer (conductor): Testament: SBT8 1365.



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