Academy Of St Martin In The Fields/ Marwood, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Even if the grand piano is removed, the narrow, concave-shelled stage of the Wigmore Hall can accommodate no more than about 15 players (especially if these include space-taking percussion) and this has sometimes seemed a pity. Then the ten winds plus cello and bass of an ensemble such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields launches into a piece like Antonin Dvorak's Serenade for Wind, Op 44 (1878) and one hears instantly why these dimensions have to be just so in the fullness, weight, bloom and sheer physical immediacy of the sound.

Did Dvorak, in any case, ever write a more deliciously-beguiling score than this comparatively early masterpiece of romanticised 19th-century neo-classicism - with its robust framing marches, its inimitably flighty trio and pulsing slow movement, echoing so intriguingly the Adagio of Mozart's great serenade for 13 wind instruments? Conductorless, and with only the most sparing cues amongst them, these players seemed to breath and phrase effortlessly as one, the honeyed tone of Christopher Cowie's first oboe casting a particular spell whenever the partwriting divulged a leading line.

After so much sweetness and light, the hard-bitten astringency of Kurt Weill's Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, Op 12 (1924), came as an especially telling contrast. Dating from before his theatrical caprices with Brecht, when the 24-year old composer was still studying with Busoni, the concerto subsumes a number of vernacular forms - march, waltz, tarantella, and so on - in a bleak harmonic idiom approaching atonality. The impressive, large-scale cohesion and sweep of its first movement especially, leaves one lamenting all the more Weill's later paucity of concert music.

Soloist Anthony Marwood managed to direct the many tricky tempo-changes of the later movements with no more than the occasional lapse of precision, while simultaneously holding his silvery-toned own against the more heavily-scored passages - no mean feat - and inflecting the volatile violin line with all manner of expressive nuances. This was a reading one would very much like to have on disc.

Someone ought to have forwarned the programme note-writer that the ASMF would be performing the great Serenade in B flat for 13 Wind Instruments, K361 itself with an inauthentic double bassoon on the bass line rather than the double bass Mozart asked for. All the same, the opening B-flat chord was almost voluptuous in its immaculately-tuned evenness and warmth, and so the performance of the seven movements proceeded.

It was relatively "traditional" in tempi and amplitude of phrasing, perhaps, compared with some period instrument readings, but making the most of Mozart's fabulously varied instrumental combinations and textures.

All in all, a generously filled evening, packed with genuine musicality. Real thanks.

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