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15.2.11

Ionarts-at-Large: Mozart at St.Luke's


The LSO’s “Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts”, broadcast from St.Luke’s Jerwood Hall are terrific little events. Not only is the hall lovely (St.Luke’s is a prime example of tasteful, indeed inspired deconsecration and reuse of a church; easily beating out the church of downtown Tobermory, for example, which has been turned into a Spar), the concerts are just an hour long… which is only a wee bit longer than what I’d consider the perfect length for unintimidating and bracing lunchtime-concert-enjoyment.

Francois-Frederic Guy’s Chopin recital in September of last year was a special treat and trying to attend another one during my most recent (or any future) stint in London was (and remains) the logical thing to do.

available at Amazon
W.G.Mozart, Piano Sonatas K. 332, 333, 475 & 457,
A.Haefliger
Sony
With the lights dimmed and the artist’s shock of bright white hair standing out against the exposed brick wall of St.Luke’s, it looked to me as though Jack Lemon sat at the piano, playing Mozart’s C-major Sonata (K309). It was Christian Blackshaw instead, and the first movement (Allegro con spirito) of said sonata was spirited, alright. Lots of dynamic differentiation (not to say exaggeration) hinted at the Mannheim provenance of the sonata, with Mozart taking his cues for the dynamic effects from the prevalent orchestral habits. But even so the sonata couldn’t shake off a sense of muscular sameness. Blackshaw seemed intent on instilling the Andante (un poco adagio) with a sense of importance that the music simply would not yield. If that movement did indeed portray the character of a girl with which Mozart flirted eagerly, it’s quite difficult to imagine what teenage Wolfgang would have found in a girl so incredibly dull as little Rosa Cannabich. What would you do, if forced to choose between doubting Mozart’s taste for lively girls and blaming Blackshaw’s interpretation for sucking the juices out of this slow movement?

The Fantasie in d-minor (K397) is a considerably more interesting piece of music, but it ceases to be interesting when taken on in an overwrought and overly reverent way. The portentous pauses no longer informed the appreciation of Mozart’s genius and struck as mere mannerism. Slowing down everything that was even remotely slow (as if bent on using every minute of that given hour, if necessary with 45 minutes of musical material), the inner urge to ask Mr. Blackshaw to kindly get on with it became increasingly pressing. Not that matters weren’t perfectly lovely… but in that harmless way that can turn people off Mozart.

The Piano Sonata in c-minor (K457) has established itself as the crown jewel of Mozart’s solo piano output, and it would be difficult (moreover: unnecessary) to dispute its pride of place. With his agitated efforts of making the music specially interesting (as if it weren’t already plenty interesting on its own) the artist here did little to cement that reputation. Going at the poor thing as if it was Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, he achieved effects that excited less often than they didn’t. Which is to say: sometimes the boldness became thoroughly bracing; more often annoying. There was hardly a moment where I didn’t think that less would be rather more.

Mr. Blackshaw will perform an entire cycle of Mozart’s sonatas at Wigmore Hall in the 2011/12 season. Perhaps he will approach Wolgang with a brigher mood then? This concert will be broadcast by BBC 3 on Tuesday, March 22nd at 1PM—past concerts can be enjoyed via BBC’s iPlayer.

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