The Arensky Chamber Orchestra’s Impressive Mozart

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart: Andrew Haveron (violin), Andriy Viytovych (viola), Arensky Chamber Orchestra, William Kunhardt (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 19.5.2012 (MB)

Sinfonia concertante, for violin and viola, KV 364
Symphony no.41 in C major, KV 551, ‘Jupiter’

This was the final instalment of a three-concert series, Revolutionaries of Vienna, from the Arensky Chamber Orchestra. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the previous two concerts, devoted to Beethoven and Haydn, but was keen to hear whether Mozart would receive his due, which in large part he did. Regular readers, should I have any, will be aware that there is no composer about whom I am touchier or more exacting – delete according to taste – than Mozart, so that is no mean praise, especially for so young an orchestra.

Or perhaps not, for I was encouraged to think that maybe what used to be called the ‘green shoots of recovery’ – none of us today even thinks those exist economically – might be seen in the battle against the monstrous regiments of authenticity. Maybe it is actually the case that the absurd zealotry of the Leonhardts, Hogwoods, Norringtons, et al., will die with them. Certainly this performance of the Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola suggested that there were still musicians who were willing to treat Mozart as music, rather than as some preposterous parody of a pseudo-archaeological exercise. Conductor William Kunhardt’s tempi were well chosen, seemingly dictated, or rather suggested, by the music, instead of imposed upon it. There will always be different options one might follow, or let us at least hope so, but even if the slow movement were less ‘slow’ than one once might have expected, it flowed rather than being harried – and the closing bars displayed an alert ear for Mozart’s ineffable sense of tragedy. (The relationship between E-flat major and C minor in Mozart is always powerful; consider, for instance, the Ninth piano concerto or the Twenty-third.) From the opening bars of the first movement, the orchestra showed itself alert, sprightly, and yet always, crucially, warm in timbre. Soloists Andrew Haveron and Andriy Viytovych complemented each other and the orchestra with excellence. The richness of Viytovych’s tone and the sweetness of that of Haveron again took one back to an age that respected Mozart enough never to make him sound remotely unpleasant. (However is it the case that we have reached a situation in which it has become almost de rigueur?) And there was a fine sense of fun, not at least in the finale, whose progress was shaped by an excellent command of line from all concerned. As a welcome encore, we were treated to the slow movement of the second duo for violin and viola, KV 424, deceptive in its apparent simplicity.

I was a little less enamoured with the performance of the Jupiter Symphony, though my reservations were principally restricted to the first movement. Here I wondered, despite undoubtedly committed playing from ACO, whether there remained a few spectres of ‘authenticity’ to be banished. It seemed unsmiling, driven, unwilling to relax even for the second subject. Moreover, there was a certain astringency to violin tone such as had never surfaced in the first half. Here, and not only here, the kettledrums were more prominent than they might have been, very much in the fashion nowadays favoured. Nevertheless, the slow movement flowed in a good sense. Again, one might have wished for a more relaxed approach – though I can imagine that many, by the same token, would not – but there were splendid details revealed along the way, especially from a fine woodwind section. Though taken one-to-a-bar, there was nevertheless plenty of welcome give-and-take in the minuet, orchestral musicians clearly listening to each other as estimable chamber musicians. The miracles of the finale will never pall; repeats were taken, for which one felt not the slightest regret.

Mark Berry