Classical Ensemble’s final concert of the year took place in St Oswald’s church and offered a delightful programme of Mozart and Couperin, conducted by Ryan Bunce and featuring soloist Misuzu Oda.
Ryan introduced their opening piece, Mozart’s 31st Symphony, by reading a few lines from letters written by the composer himself. Nicknamed the ‘Paris Symphony’ this work was written to please his audience (which was, unsurprisingly, Parisians). Whether intentional or not, it is a shame he left out the more scathing remarks Mozart had made of his audience. Comments such as ‘I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like’ could have created further dimension to the background of the work, as Mozart introduces idiomatically French features such as the premier coup d’archet almost caricatured in the opening of the Symphony. Indeed, the ensemble’s opening was clear and stately, and there was a good use of dynamic contrast, particularly in the sforzandi moments, although the strings could have been even more flamboyant at the start. The timpani, played by Kweku Bimpong, provided a drive and punch much needed in the first movement. The ensemble played the better-known version of the second movement and although the horns had a bit of a wobbly start, the flute, played by David Sheard , shone through the texture. The restatement of the theme was much more assured and lyrical overall. The third movement was a little fuzzy in the second violins at the start but the unexpected forte came in by surprise and these tutti moments were where the orchestra sounded its best.
The ‘Francoise’ by Couperin was a lovely contrast to the Mozart, stylistically as well as texturally. A gorgeous trio sonata alternating between flute, oboe and cello continuo and two violins and cello continuo, the soloists gathered in a semi-circle with the keyboard, played by Misuzu placed in the background. Freddie Hankin and David Sheard truly stole the show with exquisitely clear and lyrical lines, a certain complicity emanating from their playing. Although the continuo harpsichord was played on keyboard with the harpsichord sound effect, the basso continuo was well executed and unobtrusive, although arguably to the point of being possibly too quiet. The string trio could have been more confident but the performance was charming.
The second half featured their last piece, Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Piano Concerto No.26 which concluded the concert perfectly, the orchestra coming together with their solo pianist Misuzu for an impressive finale to the evening. Her even and silky tone is to be commended as the solo piano is given virtuosic lines in place of harmonic tension, in an almost proto-Romantic manner. The balance between the piano and orchestra was good and the grosso sections were just as lovely, although the operatic echoes of the work may have been slightly lost. However, the second movement was particularly melancholic, the strings creating an emotive atmosphere, contrasted by the much more vigorous and cheerful last movement. It was a stunning performance by Misuzu and for me was the highlight of the whole evening.
Overall, this was a successful concert and the atmosphere was welcoming and informal, with thoughtful French themed refreshments and nibbles at the interval, and it was lovely end to the ensemble’s year of music making.