Orchestra Wellington’s second concert featuring Mozart violin concertos and city-named symphonies

Orchestra Wellington
Conductor and violin soloist: Amalia Hall

Mozart: Violin Concerto No 4 in D, K 218
Mozart: Symphony No 38 in D, K 504, “Prague”

St Andrews on The Terrace

Saturday 13 June 2020, 4 pm

This second programme in Orchestra Wellington’s ‘recovery’ series of concerts at St Andrew’s continued with the twin themes: the last three of the five violin concertos written in 1775 when Mozart was 19 {if we don’t count the dubious violin concerto “No 7 (K 271a/271i)”}; and the three symphonies that bear place names.

Now in the pandemic’s ‘alert level 1’, this was a full house, if we don’t count the gallery which was not open.

The acoustic of St Andrew’s has given me problems in the past, when amateur or student orchestras have not calmed exuberant brass and percussion players. But here, an excellent professional orchestra guided by a gifted professional musician as both conductor and soloist found the right dynamic levels.

If there was anything to notice it was the balance in the concerto between strings and the limited wind instruments (two oboes and two horns); and the contrast between the delicacy of Amalia Hall’s solo violin playing and the fairly robust body of orchestral string players. But it’s a matter of taste, whether or not closer dynamic affinities between violin and orchestra might have been rewarding.

As was the unvarying habit in the 18th century, Mozart left no cadenzas for his violin concertos, as the virtuoso soloist was usually pleased to compose his own, thus drawing attention to his genius as both composer and performer. Amalia played cadenzas, not too extended, in each movement. Several violinists have published cadenzas for the Mozart concertos, usually roughly in sympathy with Mozart’s period and style. I don’t know whose versions she played, but they were not uncharacteristic of the period and reminded us that she is a world-class violinist.

The symphony in this concert was the latest of the three. ‘Paris’ was written in 1778, ‘Linz’ in 1783 and ‘Prague’ in 1786/87. It was written 18 months before the three last, great symphonies, after The Marriage of Figaro which had a great success in Prague in December 1786, and was perhaps the occasion for Mozart’s visit when the Prague symphony may have been performed. Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague under the composer later in 1787 and that was the subject of a famous German novella, Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (‘Mozart on the journey to Prague’) by the poet Eduard Mörike.

There are more dramatic contrasts in style, in instrumentation, in sheer musical genius between a 19-year-old’s violin concerto and a mature 30-year old’s symphony.

The orchestra did it proud, in part because Mozart had access to flutes, bassoons and trumpets, and timpani too, as well as the oboes and horns used in the concertos. Appropriate baroque timpani were used, lighter and crisper than the timpani normally in use today.

Amalia Hall conducted discreetly from her slightly elevated concertmaster’s seat, and the effects were an idiomatic, well integrated performance: both decently bold and light spirited. Her skilled management was evident right from the contemplative opening Adagio introduction, and on through the Allegro with warm strings and timpani; and particularly in the fugal passages in the quite substantial first movement. The second movement acted as both a thoughtful slow movement and also perhaps suggested, in slowish triple time, the normal but here non-existent minuet, third movement,

It’s a symphony that handles many of the emotional elements of the last symphonies, and they were sensitively captured.  Hall’s guidance in the last movement, marked Presto, was indeed that: brisk and robust, reminding us that we have a fine Wellington orchestra, all our own. St Andrew’s provided a fine venue in a crisis environment for a smaller orchestra and more limited audience. We’ll soon be able to hear it at full symphonic scale (here there were about 35 players) in a more generous acoustic with all the luxuries of a modern concert hall.

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