Variable winds at St.Andrew’s over lunchtime

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace Lunchtime Concerts presents:

 Mozart Serenades  for Wind Octet  K 375 in Eb, and K388 in C minor 

Peter Dykes,  Merran Cooke , Oboes
David McGregor,  Hayden Sinclair, Clarinets
Preman Tilson, Penny Miles, Bassoons
Peter Sharman, Heather Thompson, Horns
St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace

Wednesday 17th July 2013

This lunchtime programme was a rare opportunity to hear live performances of these wonderful wind ensembles from Mozart’s pen. They were presented with the assurance one would expect from such seasoned musicians, who clearly revelled in the chance to present these works. K 375 was first composed in 1781 for wind sextet (without oboes) and performed outdoors in several Salzburg locations on the evening of a lady’s name day. It was common practice for itinerant musicians to perform street music around the city on such occasions, be they festivals for saints’ days or those of prominent citizens. The following year Mozart rewrote the work for octet, possibly hoping it might be played by the Emperor’s wind band.

The group amply captured the festive exuberance of this musical genre, but the tempo selected for the opening movement of K.375 was a little too hurried: the fast-moving scales for various pairs of winds call for crispness and clarity, but at this speed I doubt the promenading burghers would have been able to appreciate them against the hubbub of street festivities. The following movement would have benefitted from more dynamic contrast, particularly between the Menuetto and Trio, as would the Adagio where Mozart’s signature melodies were not really allowed to speak clearly enough through the rich accompanying textures. The arpeggio passages from the 2nd Horn were, however, the exception, with Heather Thompson projecting them beautifully.

The Finale set off at a hectic pace, again at the cost of musical clarity and dynamic contrast. The over-bright acoustics of the renovated St. Andrews space make this a real challenge for groups this size, and perhaps their approach was simply to perform like the original street musicians who had to capture the attention of listeners in a noisy outdoor environment.

The K388 octet was also presented with total competence and technical mastery but again the  tempi and dynamics selected did not do full justice to this somewhat more solemn work. This Serenade showcases Mozart’s woodwind writing at its breathtaking best, but its magical subtleties were often obscured by lack of dynamic contrast or a sensitive balance between melody and accompaniment. The bassoon variation in the final Allegro was played with spine tingling clarity of line and rhythm by Preman Tilson, but it was a real struggle to pick it out from the group sound. We are exceptionally fortunate to hear musicians of this calibre, but it is sad to hear them swallowed up in a one-size-fits-all approach to dynamics and balance.

That said, it was a  privilege to attend this concert, given that these busy musicians have so many calls on their time and talents. Their enthusiasm and pleasure in the works was infectious, and this was unreservedly conveyed to the audience. One was just left hankering for enough rehearsal time for this group’s wonderful talents to do full justice to two of the finest works in the wind repertoire.

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