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Mozart & Shostakovich: Barbara Bonney (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, QEH, 29.11.2005 (CC)



Big-boned Mozart, out-of-phase as it may be with current historically-informed performance practice, has a distinct appeal. Ashkenazy has long been associated with  the music of this composer, but as a pianist, so it was interesting to hear his take on the 'Haffner' symphony (D, K385). A sense of deflation in the first movement's development section pointed towards short rehearsal time, an impression only underlined by certain anonymity that characterized the (very well played) Andante. The cellos and double-basses tend to come across as rather plummy in the QEH's acoustic. Ashkenazy chose a break-neck speed for the finale – good job the Philharmonia has no problems with this sort of challenge – but some charm wouldn't have gone amiss.

Talking of charm, Barbara Bonney was the soloist in three arias, two of which featured the excellent violin obbligato of James Clark. Bonney's pure tone and sure, clean attack ensured 'L'amerò, sarò costante' (Amintas' aria from Act II of Il pastore) was pure delight. 'Voi avete un cor fidele', K217 (written for insertion into Galuppi's Le nozze di Dorinda) was perhaps not Mozart at his most inspired, but one could not help admire Bonney's sure technique. Finally, 'Non più, tutto ascolta! ... Non temer, amato bene', K490, in which Bonney, in enforced schizophrenia (she sang the lines of both Ilia and Idamante), projected a variety of emotions from tenderness to resolution with great aplomb. This impressive piece was written for a March 1786 Vienna performance of Idomeneo). Ashkenazy was an ever-sensitive accompanist. Excellent.

Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony has a first movement Largo that is longer than the other two combined. It requires a strong interpreter whose long-range hearing can convey this sense of the immense. Although this performance was characterized by a sense of the long cantabile line and was marked by some superb solo contributions (solo flute Paul Edmund-Davies in particular), its monumentalism remained implicit. Far better was the glittering virtuosity of the Scherzo (quicksilver, but slightly weighted down by earthly matters) and, despite some approximate ensemble right at the beginning, a virtuoso and essentially fun finale. If the madcap antics could have been played up even more, this performance of the symphony remained the highpoint of the concert.



Colin Clarke



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