Intimate Mozart indeed. This was a ravishing concert full of superb playing.
The concert was a small scale recital, the ACO being represented by Artistic Director Richard Tognetti and three featured principals: second violinist Helena Rathbone, cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, and guest viola player Florian Peelman.
Kristian Bezuidenhout was the amazing soloist on piano. Born in South Africa, raised in Australia, educated in the US and now a resident of the UK, pianist, Bezuidenhout is regarded as one of the world’s leading performers of Mozart. (Since 2009, he has been recording the complete keyboard music of Mozart).
What was interesting was the contrast in styles between the Mozart piece and the two Schumman concertos , which were themselves very different in texture and format. In all three works the ensemble playing was superb.
The night began and ended with Schumann: first, the String Quartet No.3, and after interval the Piano Quintet with Bezuidenhout on piano. Both Schumman pieces were written in 1842, his year of chamber music and not long after he married his beloved Clara, the Quintet being his birthday present to her.
First we heard Schumann’s String Quartet No.3 in A major in a striking performance that sounded sharp, spiky and more 21st Century than ‘Romantic’.
The first movement had a strong opening and then was passionate and lyrical yet edgy. The second movement was dynamic and insistent, even at times agitated. There were dance like sections yet also a slow, aching lament. A lush, swirling segment followed with the music ebbing and flowing which led to a haunting aching violin and pizzicato on the cello.
The final movement was boisterous and dynamic, Tognetti featuring in a dazzling, breathless mini solo. The melody was started and passed around the members of the quintet in an animated discussion full of joy, leading to a vigorous, sudden conclusion. The slow movement emphasised the group’s united homologous warm sound and texture.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.13 was played in the ‘string quartet’ version. Bezuidenhout’s playing was extremely delicate, sensitive and nuanced. In the first movement he led the discussion, taking over diva-like after the emphatic opening, his playing soaring and darting like a butterfly.
In the floating second movement the strings were perhaps a little more dominant but Bezuidenhout’s solo shimmered. In the third, final movement, with Bezuidenhout again on piano, assertively leading the discussion. Whilst the piece had a melancholic section, it was mostly bright and featured cascading ripples on the piano.
Bezuidenhout’s playing was clear and polished, full of elegance and precisely modulated phrasing of Mozart’s fanciful harmonic inflections.
The first piece after interval was Schumann’s mighty Piano Quintet in E-flat Major. Bezuidenhout shimmered and rippled on the piano. At times the strings were turbulent, sometimes they darted and scurried.
In the opening movement the piano was lush and Romantic whilst the strings were, at times, fiery and spiky.
The second movement was slow, and highlighted the balanced rhythmic unity of the ensemble.
In the third movement it felt like Bezuidenhout somersaulted through the music, and the strings had to rush to catch up in a very energetic segment .
In the scherzo there were enchanting exchanges between viola and cello and there was a great sense of dynamism and insistence at the fugato repeat of the opening theme, leading to a powerful conclusion.
A glorious, fascinating program.
Running time – two hours including interval.
The ACO’s Intimate Mozart played the City Recital Hall and a number of other concert hall venues between the 24th June and 9th July.