On Saturday night I headed off to the ACO in search of a much-needed Mahler antidote. [For the record, I don’t dislike Mahler – and I’ve loved playing in his symphonies – but I do prefer him in occasional doses.]
It worked a treat. “Tognetti’s Mozart”, as they dubbed the tour program, was everything that Mahler’s music is not. (Well, nearly. I’ll come to that.) Classical in spirit, compact, lean, playful, sincere in its wit, fervent without being overblown. Add to that the pleasure of sparkling performances with impressive ensemble and imaginative direction.
Mozart’s Violin Concerto K218 was a highlight. I like it when musicians don’t try to take Mozart more seriously than he took himself. His musical humour is an appealing one, different from the wit of Haydn, who was represented by Symphony No.46. Where Mozart can inspire broad smiles, Haydn will prompt knowing ones. And when those smiles are shared between musicians as well as between composer and listener, there’s a feeling of vitality and shared love of music-making that emerges along with the rhetorical gestures. It also gave truth to the possessive of the tour title. Without sacrificing style, this really was an individual and distinctive interpretation.Speaking of style: more delight was to be had in discovering the playing of principal oboe, Anna Starr, living up to her name with sweet, polished performances on a historical instrument. In fact, the whole wind section (natural horns, oboes, bassoon) was impressive, leaving me wishing we could have heard even more from them in the second half.
As it was, the concert ended with a string orchestra arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor, and after about 15 minutes of this I was wishing myself back in the presence of Mahler. Grieg’s charmingly original folk idiom and vibrant ideas weren’t standing up to extended development, and the quartet, which lasts for more than half an hour, seemed unsatisfyingly episodic and prolix as a result. As in the finale of Mahler 1, there are several points where you feel the music could end, and begin to wish it would. Not even the strength and richness of the performance could save the Grieg from its longeurs.
So perhaps this was not so much an antidote as a vaccine, which must resemble in some small way the thing from which you’re seeking immunity.
I’m considering making the postscript about the program book a regular feature, but I seem to have run out of green ink.