BBC SO: Mozart Day, St Luke's, St Giles, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It's been hard to take shelter in this 250th anniversary year from the money-making spins in the name of Mozart. We are told of three-day street parties in Vienna, Mozart sausage and Mozart yogurt in Salzburg, and performances in that same city of all 22 operas by a composer who couldn't wait to get away from it.

And it should not be forgotten that Salzburg - until quantities of loot could be made from the composer - had little interest in him.

BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Symphony Orchestra's birthday tribute comprised four concerts, broadcast live from the Barbican and its satellite venues. There was little sign of commerce - no statuettes, dinky flags - and little sign of imagination, indeed this was "ordinary" Mozart-planning. No hint of any "special examination" of something special.

The exception was the Skampa Quartet, who kicked off at St Luke's with K589 ("Prussian") and K465 ("Dissonance"). By reversing the chronology, the revolutionary nature of K465 was the more remarkable. In K465's miraculous Larghetto, the quartet's dynamic approach - dropping to a hair's audibility - was breathtaking, and in K589 who could have known the cello part was fiendish? The Skampa's use of "classical" bows permits lightness and intimacy but the beauty of their playing stems from deep musical intelligence.

In the muddy sound of St Giles Cripplegate, Llyr Williams pattered as cleanly as he could in the piano sonatas K281 in Bb and K330 in C, and the bewitching Fantasy in D minor K397. But why not a fortepiano, especially here.

Mozart was known to be impressed by Stein's new instrument, which damped the notes far faster than a harpsichord. But here was Williams appearing to let little air between notes or phrases, thanks to the pedal (or possibly the acoustic) of a modern grand.

The American David Robertson rather than the European Jiri Belohlavek wielded the baton for the BBC SO's performance of the "Jupiter" and the C minor Mass. And what a good job he did on the "Jupiter", the orchestra's strings adopting light, fast bows with minimal vibrato.

Less convincing was the mass, where sopranos Laura Aikin and Emma Bell had a less good time than the huge BBC Chorus.

And finally the BBC SO Chamber Ensemble in the inevitable (but freshly minted) Eine kleine... and the "Gran Partita" K361, a cruelly marvellous piece to end a heck of a day.

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