No ‘Compelling Links’ Between Mozart and Tchaikovsky from Znaider and LSO

09/12/2017

Mozart and Tchaikovsky: London Symphony Orchestra / Nicolaj Znaider (violin/conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 7.12.2017. (GD)

Mozart – Violin Concerto No.2 in D major K 211; Violin Concerto No.3 in G major K 216

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.6 in B minor ‘Pathetique’ Op.74

The Barbican prospectus described this concert as ‘exploring the compelling links between Mozart and Tchaikovsky’, but I had very little sense of this. The two Mozart violin concertos were nicely played with Znaider directing and playing the solo violin part, as Mozart would have done. But there were no specific links here with Tchaikovsky, except of course the beautiful melodies, especially in K 261, whilst Mozart composed no more violin concertos after 1775. Znaider deployed quite a large string compliment, and some of the contrapuntal detail was lost in the Barbican’s dry acoustic. Also, Znaider did not deploy antiphonal violins, crucial in Mozart. Period performances from the likes of Manze and Mullova, reveal much more detail, and dynamic contrast. But surely it would have been much more informative to have played say one of the violin concertos and an early symphony or divertimento/serenade; the beautiful, but rarely played Serenade in D, K 204, of 1774, comes to mind. I would have thought the last Tchaikovsky work in a concert devoted to the ‘compelling links’ with Mozart would have been his most dramatic and tragic work – the ‘Pathetique’ Symphony.

A more sensitive performance would have made much more of the opening statements of the main first movement’s theme on violins and violas, and Klemperer’s recording is exemplary here with a Mozartian lightness of touch. Also, the big D major melody in the same movement was nicely played, but had an element of blandness. The rest of the symphony was something of a mixed bag. The tremendous first movement development lacked dynamic contrast, and a sense of drama/energy kept in reserve, along with rather irritating and thumpy timpani. The waltz movement was quite well shaped, with a tendency toward sentimentality. The great march again lacked that crucial sense of power in reserve; all to do with split second timing so well understood by Mravinsky and Toscanini. The great ‘lamentoso’ last movement came off more successfully, with a magnificent final climax, and suitably throbbing basses in the conclusion, leading to a coda of utter despair and most telling silence.

Rather than the ‘Pathetique’ Symphony surely a selection from the great Tchaikovsky ballets, especially Nutcracker, which has plenty of Mozartian elegance and finesse, would have suited the Mozart/Tchaikovsky comparison much better. Also, it is curious that Tchaikovsky’s musical homage to his beloved Mozart, the ‘Mozartiana’ – Orchestral Suite No.4 in G, Op.61 – was not considered. It is still not much performed, and shows Tchaikovsky as a Mozart connoisseur by its Mozart selection all beautifully orchestrated, and all very esoteric in the culturally conservative Russia of the 1880s. And even today pieces like the Gigue K 574, and Minuet K 355, both for piano, are still Mozart rarities. And the sublime Ave verum corpus K 618, is an almost perfect blending of the two great composers in both composition and orchestration.

The programme notes included a conversation with Znaider supposedly telling us more about his thoughts on the Mozart/Tchaikovsky comparison. But it actually tells us very little, apart from the two composers obvious feeling for drama, stage narrative and expectation, plus a few comments on Mozart’s violin technique/expectations learnt from his father Leopold, and Znaider’s preference for playing and directing in the manner of Mozart. Also, how it all gives him fresh insights into the music in performance. Really all rather obvious!

In short a concert with a fascinating concept focusing on the ‘compelling’ links’ between two great composers. But really failing to achieve anything like the diversity and insights such a programme could have offered. A real missed opportunity. It would have been better just to have presented the given programme without any putative claims of focused comparison and ‘compelling links’ between Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Geoff Diggines

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