fri 06/12/2019

Dickson, Brautigam, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - disappointing Mozart concerto | reviews, news & interviews

Dickson, Brautigam, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - disappointing Mozart concerto

Dickson, Brautigam, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - disappointing Mozart concerto

Chamber forces give lithe Mendelssohn symphony a lift

Nicholas Collon conducting Aurora Orchestra© Simon Weir

Kings Place Hall One is a slightly strange venue, its small stage size seeming out of proportion for the dimensions of the room. It means only a chamber orchestra can fit on stage – and even then they often look uncomfortably squashed, especially with a piano for company. But making a virtue of this constraint, Aurora Orchestra has presented a five-year survey of Mozart piano concertos as chamber pieces, accompanied by wide-ranging repertoire from Bach to Ligeti. But where the programming has been innovative, and the small forces provide an interesting perspective, the disappointment last night was the performance itself, at least in the Mozart.

Before that I was looking forward to the London premiere of James MacMillan’s Saxophone Concerto, played by Amy Dickson. Unfortunately, the London transport network let me down (which, to be fair, it doesn’t often do) and I was late, missing this first item. I am a MacMillan fan and the programme note, setting out how the concerto engages with different worlds of Scottish music, sounded intriguing but, sadly, the sound-proofing of the hall is such that not a single note reached me outside the doors.

Dutch pianist Ronald BrautigamI was also looking forward to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 20 which has had a personal resonance for me since I first saw Amadeus. In the film the second movement is used to shattering effect over the credits, but veteran Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam (pictured above by Marc Borggreve) completely missed the mark on Saturday. In his reading this “slow” movement – which in the urtext score has no tempo indication but bears the title “Romance” – was neither slow nor romantic. Although I am very open to different interpretations, his playing was simply hurried and lacking in any warmth. It was considerably faster even than Brautigam’s 2012 fortepiano recording with the Kölner Akademie, which I like. Here though Brautigam drove it forward at each restatement of the magical theme as if he had a train to catch – and I know that feeling.

But if the second movement was anxious where I wanted it to be soothing, in the first movement, which is Beethovenian in its nervous energy, Brautigam skated across the surface rather than finding stormy unease. The orchestra did its best – and the coldly muted reprise of the opening them was striking – but they were like the supporting cast of Hamlet working round Gyles Brandreth as the Prince of Denmark: there was only so much they could do. Only in the final movement was there an appropriate urgency, with the music again taken very fast. The second violins worked very hard to propel things forward and there was some fine woodwind playing, but noticeable slips in the solo part didn’t help.

After the interval, Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony did something to restore good spirits. Using smaller forces pushes the woodwind and horns to the fore, set against reduced string numbers, with just six first violins. Right from the start the horns glinted momentarily through the wind chords, and the bassoons sounded sweetly. The climax of the first movement had more fire than the whole of the Mozart, and the cello countermelody singing over the reprise of the first subject had a lovely steely edge to the sound.

Nicholas Collon is an elegant, less-is-more conductor, well suited to a chamber orchestra. His interpretations were successful – as in the Mozart he varied the first movement repeat in dynamic and timbre – and was particularly effective in the fast music that is Mendelssohn’s metier. I find Mendelssohn less convincing when he has his serious face on. The third movement felt a bit stern and didactic, but excitement abounded in the fugal passage of the final movement, and there was some delightfully meaty horn playing in the final climax.

@bernardlhughes

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