Venue : St Martin in the Fields, London
Date : 7 May 2012
I think Debbie spotted this one first, listed as Mozart Masterpieces by Candlelight, and as Mozart is my favourite classical composer it was an ideal way to spend a bank holiday evening after missing RoSfest because of work. I think the fact that John Lill was performing made it attractive to Debbie. We got to St Martin in the Fields church early enough to eat in their Crypt restaurant, and both had a massive portion of aubergine pasta bake for a reasonable price. Then it was time to go in and take our seats, which were in the fourth row and over to the right as you look towards the musicians, which suited us fine – we could hear everything very clearly and also had a view of the musicians.
The performance tonight was from the London Octave Wind Soloists, directed for the first time this evening by Paul Boyes, with John Lill joining them on piano for one section of the overall performance. The evening begins with Handel’s The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba, which we heard the previous night while watching Four Weddings And A Funeral. I know – I am such a philistine. The group for this features 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns and 2 oboes. There was a programme available for the evening and I found the notes to be both interesting and informative. I will take the liberty of quoting some of them within this review. “In this version, the oboes play their original orchestral lines while the clarinets have the task of playing the virtuosic arpeggiated semiquavers of the violin part.” Which is clearly a much better way of putting it than I would have done – the sound is led by the clarinets and oboes, and it swirls and flows with the horns giving depth and the bassoons providing rhythm. It was a gentle way to get things going.
They continue with excerpts from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, as arranged by Josef Triebensee. To again quote from the excellent programme, “These arrangements, first performed in 1788, use the natural characteristics of the different instruments to represent the various personalities from within the opera with great charm and humour.” Each part being played tonight had a different feel to it :
Notte e giorno faticar – had a smooth flow to it
Madamina, il catalogo e questo – a more jumbled sound
La ci darem la mano – very stately and reserved
Fin ch’han dal vino – upbeat and bouncy
Deh vieni alla finestra – stately with a bit of bounce
Gia la mensa e preparata – this was the full works and most recognisably Mozart for someone like me who does not have an in-depth knowledge of his work, with the full range of sounds I would associate with him.
After a short interval they form a quintet – 1 each of the clarinet, oboe, French horn and bassoon plus John Lill on piano. “He doesn’t know it from memory,” says Paul Boyes as he gets some sheet music for the oboe player. They will be playing Mozart’s Quintet in E Flat, K452. The Largo Allegro moderato begins with an edgy, dramatic sound, or, as the programme has it, “The rather long, solemn, largo that introduces the work, has a concertante style which sets the tone of the work. This is followed by a quick allegro moderato section whose opening theme, played softly on the piano until it is interrupted by a loud tutti episode, is followed by a section characterised by irregular phrasing and offbeat accents.” I did enjoy the piano through this section, and the different feels, textures, and emphasis that John Lill brought to the sound. Someone’s phone went off towards the end of it, and they were so quick to turn it off. Yes, despite the irregular phrasing and offbeat accents, we are not at a Prog gig. The Larghetto has a smoother flow, and as it continues the wind instruments seem to dominate. Or, “the wind instruments take the lead in announcing the themes while the piano weaves elaborate decorative arpeggios around them.” I have to say I think those elaborate decorative arpeggios were somewhat lost in the sound for me as the wind instruments dominated. It then moves spritely into the Rondo: Allegretto, and “the rondo finale is opened by a theme on the piano which is then echoed by the wind. This finale concludes with a written-out cadenza in tempo for all instruments – a cadenza section in the tempo of the movement, in which parts are actually written out for each instrument.” The final section was great fun and concluded with loud applause from the audience, and the players come back for a second bow as the very well deserved applause continues. I am left with the impression that I would like to hear a lot more from John Lill. Debbie had a very different opinion on the performance of this quintet, feeling that the piano was too percussive in comparison to the homogenous playing of the London Octave Wind Soloists, who, clearly, have years of playing together behind them. And if either of us should know, it’s her.
Up to now, during the performance I have not heard any sirens from outside, and then during the main interval I hear at least two.
They conclude with Mozart’s Serenade no.10 in B flat ‘Gran Partita’ K361, with all the wind instruments, and it is an absolute triumph as well as being, for me, the best part of the evening. They have 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 4 French horns, 2 basset horns (which are an instrument I do not recall ever having seen before), 2 bassoons and 1 contra-bassoon (which I am really looking forward to hearing). This is “grand not only in scope but in depth of expression, covering a wide range of moods, from the fun and playful to the deep and profound.” It opens with the Largo – Molto allegro, a slow introduction featuring solo passages from the clarinet and oboe, then a theme from the clarinets which is developed by the basset horns and the oboes. The next section is listed as the Menuetto – Trio 1 – Trio 2, and it begins using all the instruments extensively, before the Trio 1 uses the clarinets and basset horns. It then returns to the original theme before the Trio 2 uses the oboe, basset horn and bassoon. There is a pulse through the Adagio with solo lines alternating between the clarinet, oboe and basset horn. Then another Menuetto – Trio 1 – Trio 2, and the first section is fast and staccato, which is something I always enjoy in my music. The Romance returns us to a slower tempo and I am really getting a bass pulse from the bassoons, and enjoying the input of the contrabassoon, which really does have a lovely, rich sound. Then we have the Tema con variazioni, with a theme primarily from the clarinet, and then variations on that theme. The Finale was taken at an incredibly quick tempo which caused all the movements to balance out nicely. Timothy Lines, principal clarinet, particularly shone in this work.
This had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening with some excellent playing of none too heavy pieces. I expect we will be coming back for a lot more.