By John Sidgwick
LONDON, 15 July 2002 - The first of a series of four
weekends of music, devoted largely to works by Mozart, opened on 11
July at the Barbican
Centre with a concert by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
and its associated choir under the baton of the French conductor,
Emmanuel Krivine. There were two pieces on the programme: the Piano
Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 and the Mass in C minor, K427.
who remember Krivine in his initial career as a violinist, one that
was cut short by a motor accident, will recall the elegance and
precision of his performances, two characteristics which he has
carried over into his work as a conductor and which are complemented
by searching musicianship. It is not surprising, therefore, that the
excellent Academy of St Martin in the Fields, which contains a number
of Britain's finest string players and was led on this occasion by
Kenneth Sillito, a legendary player of chamber music, should respond
so admirably to Krivine's direction.
The opening tutti of
the Mozart piano concerto was a joy and Louis Lortie lent promises of
further joys when it came to his entry. Alas, he and the audience were
quickly betrayed by the sheer unsuitability of the instrument on which
he was performing. The massive concert grand, for all the world like
the deck of an aircraft carrier, was simply too huge by far for the
music of Mozart. It is not a question of loud and soft, it is one of
clarity. Quick passages, however well executed and pedalled, tend to
turn into mud on such an instrument. Even though the Academy of St
Martin in the Fields is not a period instrument orchestra, the
presence alongside them of a piano such as the one that Lortie was
performing on was totally inappropriate.
It is said that the
golden age of piano manufacture lay between the years 1900 and 1939.
It would be unrealistic to expect the managers of concert halls to
include such instruments in their equipment or even to hire them
should they be available, but it would surely be possible to find
pianos that meet the needs of Mozart performance. As it was, only in
the flowing Andante with its generally limited range of dynamics did
the audience obtained a glimpse of Mozart's real intentions.
was much to be pleased about in the performance of the Mass in C
minor. To begin with, there was the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Chorus, which at every moment lived up to its reputation for clarity,
flexibility and beauty of tone. It cannot be easy for soloists,
however firm their reputations, to stand and deliver in front of such
a group. The singers on this occasion included Lynne Dawson, who
captivated millions of people the world over with her moving presence
and performance at the funeral
of Princess Diana. She was partnered by the Italian soprano
Patrizia Biccirè and two French singers, Yann Beuron (tenor)
and Stéphane Degout (bass). At one or two moments, I got the
impression that Krivine was giving his soloists too much rope,
particularly in the Quoniam trio, where they seemed to be running away
from him emotionally with just a shade too many vocal flourishes. I
feel sure that given more rehearsal time and more performances, he
would have rectified this. Nevertheless, the performance overall was
one to remember.
A word about the venue. When the Barbican
first came on stream in the 1970's, it attracted a great deal of
criticism. Visitors experienced difficulties in finding their way
around the vast premises, the acoustics of the concert hall were far
from satisfactory and the programming was said to lack imagination.
Things are a great deal better now, notably as a result of the wise
and efficient impetus given by Managing Director, John Tusa and
extensive alterations to the hall have improved the sound
considerably. In fact, from the visitors point of view, the Barbican
can now lay claim to being a most agreeable venue. There are good
parking facilities and an abundance of places in which to eat and
drink before, during and after concerts. Moreover, the facilities for
musicians are satisfactory, although artists being artists, they will
always find something to complain about!
Sidgwick writes on music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com.