AMALIA AND FRIENDS PLAY MOZART
Violin Concerto No, 3 in G Major K.216
Symphony No. 36 in C Major K.425
Amalia Hall (violin and director)
Members of Orchestra Wellington
Saturday 20th June 2020
This was the third and final of the three programmes of Mozart presented on consecutive Saturdays in June 2020 by Amalia Hall and members of Orchestra Wellington, of which ensemble she is the concertmaster. Intended to be a kind of celebration of the nation’s lifting of “lockdown” conditions originally imposed by the Government to counter the presence of the Covid-19 virus, the concerts, though still limiting audience numbers to a hundred per event brought forth an enthusiastic and appreciative response to the ensemble’s return to “live” music-making in the capital.
My Middle-C colleagues, firstly Janice Potter and then Lindis Taylor, enthusiastically wrote about the previous couple of weeks’ performances by the same musicians, sentiments I was more than happy to echo this third time round. Here, I was firstly charmed and delighted with the direction and solo playing of Amalia Hall in the third of Mozart’s delectable series of Violin Concertos, before being thoroughly invigorated by the spirited response of the Orchestra Wellington players (again directed by Hall, this time from her concertmaster’s seat) to the same composer’s “Linz” Symphony, named after the place where Mozart wrote the music – in the space of a four-day sojourn there, no less!
While enjoying the St.Andrew’s venue as a near-ideal place for chamber and solo instrumental performance I’ve always had reservations about its suitability for orchestral performance – however, as we all know, the capital’s capacity for providing such venues has been more-than-usually under siege of late with strictures involving earthquake risk involving the temporary closure of halls, theatres and churches, necessitating places such as St.Andrew’s being brought in as a welcome stopgap for the time being. Here, with a smaller-than-usual ensemble, and a professional standard of performance, my usual concerns regarding sounds over-burgeoned thru players being crammed into insufficient spaces were happily put aside.
Particularly felicitous was the Violin Concerto’s performance, here, the music’s delight engaging the eye as well as the ear – firstly came the cheering sight of the leader/soloist joining in with the work’s opening tutti, playing the first violin part, and integrating her instrument’s sound with her fellows, and then of a sudden beaming her soloist’s single line (reinforced by frequent double-stopping) upwards and outwards as an independent spirit, and clearing the orchestral sound as a bird clears the treetops! Hers was not a “big” instrumental sound on this occasion, but an intensely focused one, whose detailings were etched and drawn like fine gold, as were the accompaniments from strings and winds – not that vigour and energy were at all lacking when required, of course, with the joyousness of Mozart’s writing given full vent at appropriate moments.
Something of the work’s extraordinary range of colour owed a great deal to its unusual scoring, Mozart substituting two flutes in the slow movement for the pair of oboes that had so characterfully contributed to the first-movement’s textures. Along with the violin’s “floating” line, the whole of the movement took on a kind of airborne quality, the muted strings enhancing the flutes’ suggestion of something not quite of this world. Equally remarkable was Hall’s playing of the cadenza, the lines bedecked with echoes and resonances, counter-voices and harmonies, all creating a remarkable multi-layered manifestation of sublimity
Contrasting with such rarefied beauties was the rumbustious, back-to-earth finale which “bounced” its way engagingly around and about, circumventing a couple of quirky contrasting episodes, before briefly reappearing, and somewhat insouciantly bidding us farewell with a gentle, un-upholstered statement from the winds! Earlier, I had pricked up my ears at hearing Amalia Hall play what I call a “turn” at the end of each of her phrases after the opening tutti, instead of the “accustomed” trill – the first recording I ever owned of this work was David Oistrakh’s, who also played a “turn” (for want of the correct term, as I’m not a “proper” musician!) and it was nice to be “returned” to the memory of that, for me, so-o-o formative performance of this music after hearing “most” other violinists playing (a tad inconsequentially?) a trill….. either would have been a delight in such a context of fruitfulness as was ours in St.Andrew’s that afternoon….
More was to come, of course, if somewhat different in character to the concerto – a symphony, no less, one which Mozart wrote in the space of four days while sojourning at the city of Linz, the name by which the work has been known ever since. I still have the renowned conductor Bruno Walter’s once-popular “rehearsal recording” of this symphony somewhere on my shelves, and therefore can no longer hear the work’s opening without also hearing Walter’s voice exhorting his players to “come off” the note at the end of each measure at the beginning – “Bahm! – OFF! Ba-bahm! – OFF! Ba-bahm! – OFF!” – and so on! Happily the ghost of that memory wasn’t evoked on this occasion, partly because Amelia Hall’s tempi were quicker and the sounds more resonant – and partly because I was too taken by her slightly elevated “podium seat” which enabled her to more visibly perform the function of “leader” and “conductor” of the orchestra at the same time!
Hall and her players brought out the work’s definite “festive”quality at the beginning with those “Bruno Walter” notes, but also made good the sequences imbued with strains of melancholy (yearning lines from both strings and wind during that same introduction, set against the opening call to attention) and also touches of humour (some droll, quasi-furtive passages predating Leoporello’s music in the yet-to-be-written opera “Don Giovanni”) contrasting with the more assertive “joie de vivre” that drove the music forward. I enjoyed, too, the bringing out of those sinuous lines in the development which wreathed up and over the music, casting a new light on what had transpired, and making us listen afresh to the recapitulation, attended at the conclusion by those “lines of experience”.
The poise and grace of the slow movement’s opening fell gratefully on the ear, with drums and brass making splendid counterweighting points to the lyricism – I thought the different lines “swam” a bit in relation to each other in places, the rhythms a tad soft-edged at some of the different voices’ exchange-points, though one could conclude that the performance in general eschewed a kind of vertical precision as an end in itself and favoured singing lines instead. (I was merely looking for something to criticise, I must confess!) A swift Minuet with a lively “kick” made a gorgeous “rustic impression – or aft the very least, the illusion of gentility being “rusticated”, to pleasing effect! The trio’s seamless flow allowed the oboe a magical couple of moments, nicely taken.
At the outset the finale was a real “scamperer”, the first “sotto voce” phrase brimming with expectation, if the tiniest bit frayed at the edges the first time round – though I liked the phrase ends here being played for all they were worth right to their full length, instead of being given what sounds to my ears a self-conscious, somewhat “mannered” tapering off at the ends by ensembles purporting to be “authentic”. I loved the performance’s energy and sense of fun in the exposition, and the cut and thrust of the more “sturm und drang” parts of the development – Hall got a terrific response from her players throughout, the strings working hard, the winds and brass rock-steady for the most part, apart from a few bars where they lagged fractionally behind the strings (albeit together!), everything building up most satisfyingly to a grandstand finish, the heavyweights (brass and timpani) ringing out with the joy of it all, to great and well-deserved acclaim.