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Opus 60 -  Mozart and Dvořák: Clio Gould (violin), Daniel Jemison (bassoon), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak, Cadogan Hall, London, 6.10.2009 (BBr)

Bassoon Concerto in B♭, K191 (1774)
Dvořák: Symphony No.6 in D, op.60 (1881)

Mozart: Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218 (1775)
Dvořák: Symphony No.7 in D minor, op.70 ((1884)

Opus 60 is the name the RPO has given to its concept of concerts lasting approximately 60 minutes with a 60 minute interval between them – there are two concerts each night. The four Opus 60 concerts this month are devoted to Concertos by Mozart and the last four Symphonies by Dvořák. This proved to be a very happy juxtaposition this evening and Nowak demonstrated exactly how to play Mozart without relegating all responsibility to the original instruments brigade.

Using a small body of strings, Nowak directed both Concertos in a spritely manner, full of bouce and spirit, and with a touch which always allowed the wind section – two each of horns and oboes – to be heard. Daniel Jemison, the RPO’s principal bassoon, was an avuncular soloist, mixing good story telling in the lyrical passages with an abundance of jokes. This was a super performance. Clio Gould’s playing of the 4thViolin Concerto was no less enjoyable. She displayed a delightfully light touch for this delicate flower of a piece and there was a dedication to her playing which really suited the music. The slow movement was especially pleasing in its simple melodic charm. The metrical games Mozart plays in the finale were well realised.

But, to be honest, it was the Dvořák I wanted to hear. The 6thSymphony is his pastoral. It’s full of things Slavonic, but is strictly formal. The medium paced first movement was taken slightly faster than I had expected, and we have come to expect, but the music moved forwards at a very nice pace, Nowak never slackening the tempo when a lyrical passage came to the fore. The scherzo, a real symphonic Slavonic Dance, was weighty and the finale was given an unexpected gravitas. This was a supoerb performance, every department was on top form – when hasn’t the RPO been on top form these past two or three years? – and made this glorious Symphony into a real Symphonic experience rather than just a pleasant walk in the country. One point. The piece is occasioanlly over scored – the brass having some towering music – and Nowak wasn’t afraid to just let the band play, even if, at times, the cliamxes were slightly over powering. But who cared? It was far too enjoyable for such matters to bother us.

If the 6this Dvořák’s Pastoral then the 7th is his Dramatic. This is a huge dramatic work, full of dark things, from the opening theme on cellos to the Tierce de Picardie of the final page. The first movement was handled with aplomb, the tension never dropped, the drama, rather than tragedy, was well handled and we were kept on the edges of our seats as the music progressed from one highpoint to the next. The slow movement wasn’t without its musical disturbances – the seemingly easy going opening theme is often disrupted – and only the furiant scherzo was free of deeper matters. The finale was superb, racing ahead in its almost frenetic passage from start to finish and although it ends in the major, this is no victory, the music is still dark and troubled.

Two great shows which can be heard on the Cadogan Hall’s own streaming service, available at their website, for a mere £2.95 per concert. Two marvellous concerts for less than the price of two pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord – I’ll go for that!!

Bob Briggs

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