CIMF / Joyous performance, but how good is Mozart?

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Neal Peres da Costa, conducting while playing fortepiano. Photo: Peter Hislop

Canberra International Music Festival / Concert 5, “Greatest Mozart I”, Fitters’ Workshop, May 1. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA

A CELEBRATION of Mozart at his most cheerful greeted patrons of the Canberra International Music Festival in “Greatest Mozart I”, the first of two such concerts in the festival linked to the festival theme, “The Idea of Vienna”.

To be sure, one of the three works played wasn’t actually Mozart, but there was method in the programming of this concert, in which soloists and musicians from the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra performed three major key works that gave insights into the way Mozart worked.

First up was the flute “quattro” in D Major KV 285, which began with a joyous allegro, lit up by the visible enjoyment of the supporting musicians, Rachael Beesley on violin, Daniel Yeadon on cello and Simon Oswell on viola.

All eyes were on the second movement, the adagio in B minor, widely considered to foreshadow the future slow movement of the “A major piano concerto” which we were soon to hear.

Here Sally Walker’s intense flute was supported by sustained pizzicato, a gentle plucking of the strings by Beesley, Yeadon and Simon Oswell, before the quattro returned to the light-hearted rondeau that completes the work.

Walker is a commanding performer of considerable virtuosity, so CIMF director Roland Peelman’s program note to the effect that once upon a time the flute was considered a “manly” instrument and a sign of leadership was both amusing and enlightening. Be that as it may, Walker maintained a happy, harmonious connection to the three other musicians.

The next work,” Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major, K. 18,” was once considered to have been by Mozart, but this performance confirmed what scholars now believe, that it was written by Carl Friedrich Abel, then later copied by the boy Mozart for study purposes, during which he made a few improvements, famously substituting clarinets for the printed oboe parts.

Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra. Photo: Peter Hislop

The rich, lush sound of the full and the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, led from the fortepiano by Neal Peres da Costa, brought a sense of triumphalism to the opening molto allegro movement, which gave way to an andante,  at times suggesting a courtly dance.

The final presto movement returned to the rousing feeling of the opening. Here the physicality of the string players was evident as they moved, almost danced, showing their enjoyment.

It  was a clever piece of programming, as the vigorous performance drew our attention to us the radical differences in style between Abel and his young admirer, the emerging Mozart.

The final work, “Concerto in A Major no 23 KV 488,” scored for piano solo and an orchestra of one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings, saw Walker now joining the orchestra and particularly clarinettists Nicole van Bruggen and Ashley Sutherland  to provide the melodic strain and change of colour. This  was to become more apparent in the second movement, the unique (for Mozart) adagio in F♯ minor.

But this was to be Da Costa’s moment in the sun. As he had explained in the elaborate concert notes printed in the CIMF program, the jury is still out on the question “what exactly did Mozart play as compared with what he wrote down?”

In his notes, De Costa turns to 19th century Mozart authority Carl Reinecke for some of the answers, but in his own full-bodied, ripping performance, he demonstrated that virtuosic elaborations are still possible, even in this era of fidelity to formal notation.


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