Mozart Unwrapped, OAE/Bevan/Bezuidenhout/Cohen, Kings Place

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The Independent Culture

Having just praised the Wigmore Hall for bravely flying the flag during most schedulers’ dead-time at Christmas, I must now give a similar accolade to London’s new chamber venue in the wilds of Kings Cross – Kings Place.

The Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment may not have an official ‘residency’ there – they already enjoy that status at the Southbank and Glyndebourne – but they do physically reside in the building, so it was appropriate that they should deliver the Kings Place New Year Concert. ‘Mozart Unwrapped’ was the generic title of this opening shot in Kings Place’s forthcoming year of Mozart events, and if the programme was wall-to-wall family favourites, that was fine as the works also happen to be masterpieces.

After the pocket orchestra had given an exuberant account of the overture to ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ under Jonathan Cohen’s direction, soprano Sophie Bevan came on to sing the short cantata originally written to showcase a star castrato, ‘Exsultate, jubilate’. Her coloratura was immaculate, but her sound was way too beefy to qualify as beautiful in the sense one guesses Mozart wanted. Then the fortepiano was opened for Kristian Bezuidenhout to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21, best known today through its use in ‘Elvira Madigan’. With an instrument such as Mozart might have played, in a hall the size he wrote for, this work came across with all the incisive charm one could wish. Bezuidenhout’s touch was light as a feather, but his performance was full of grace and gravity, and he achieved a lovely synergy with the violins and high woodwind. In Symphony No 39, which followed, the dramatic shifts between darkness and light took place on the most exalted plane.

Kings Place represents an inspired marriage between business and culture. Now in its third year of operation, it’s starting to find the audience on whom its future will depend: this is neither as homogenous as that of the Wigmore Hall, nor at heterogenous as those at the Barbican and Southbank. The programme for the next few months adroitly mixes classical music, new music, and jazz, but what Kings Place desperately needs now are some semi-resident stars – like Schiff and Bostridge at the Wigmore – who will guarantee bums on seats.