United Kingdom Kraus, Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven: Kit Armstrong (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Clemens Schuldt (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. 7.5.2016 (SRT)
JM Kraus: Overture Olympie
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20
R Strauss: Intermezzo from Capriccio
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
Joseph Martin Kraus was an exact contemporary of Mozart (he also died one year after him in 1792), born in Bavaria but spending most of his professional maturity at the court of Gustavus III of Sweden. His overture to Olympie is clearly a theatre piece, full of dramatic urgency, with throbbing chords driving things onwards, and managing a very interesting marriage of Germany Sturm und Drang with the French Baroque. However, everything on tonight’s programme was dramatic in its own way.
Beethoven’s First Symphony, as envisioned by Clemens Schuldt, zipped along with rapid tempi and fizzing colours. His emphasis on the punctuation of the trumpets and drums, however, wore me out after a while: it was as if Schuldt was trying to look forward to the great martial elements of Beethoven’s later works, but in the end its overuse became a bit predictable.
Strauss’s Intermezzo from Capriccio, on the other hand, felt like a breezy wave from a completely different world. It’s basically the opera’s opening sextet arranged for a full string orchestra, but the increased forces lend the piece surprisingly luscious tone, making it sound like the great Serenade that Tchaikovsky never wrote.
For the most spellbinding drama of all, however, you had to look no further than Kit Armstrong’s take on Mozart. This young Chinese-American pianist is only 24, but he brings a maturity of approach to Mozart that suggests a lot more experience. He brought a singing quality to the piano’s line – radiant in the Romanza, which he took at a genuine Andante – which shines through even in the forcefulness of the outer movements, and his cadenzas (including two in the finale!) were sensitive and musically cogent, as well as virtuosically played. Tellingly, he spent as much time looking at the conductor as he did looking at the keyboard, a sign of someone who is keen to collaborate, and the orchestra matched his musical variety with playing of genuine violence in the outer movements, helped by the natural timps and brass. Armstrong has been on the scene for quite a while (he has been composing since the age of 5!) but nevertheless this felt a little bit like being present at the birth of a phenomenon.