Gabrieli Consort &amp; Players / Mccreesh, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

This ingenious programme in the Barbican's Mostly Mozart festival was entitled Mozart in London. In fact, only the opening item was actually written there, during his 18-month childhood sojourn with his father and sister in 1764-65.

This was the sprightly little three-movement Symphony No 1 in E flat, K16, the chief charm of which is hearing the still somewhat short-winded eight-year old aiming at a grown-up sophistication. Yet the hyperactive Paul McCreesh and his period-instrument Gabrieli Consort & Players lavished as much care upon it as if it had been a late masterpiece.

There followed three agreeable items of vocal chamber music such as might have been heard in the assembly rooms of London or Bath: by Johann Christian Bach - the "London Bach" - who befriended the boy, and two of Mozart's later British pupils, the tragically short-lived Thomas Linley Jnr and Stephen Storace. Of them, Linley's "Come unto these yellow sands" was the most brilliant, with its fizzing oboe obligato, and Storace's "Be mine, tender passion" the most fully worked out. The young Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas negotiated them all with bright-toned flair, and the Dutch virtuoso Ronald Brautigam presided at the fortepiano.

As he did in Mozart's enchanting Piano Concerto No 12 in A major, K414, written back in Vienna in 1782, but basing its slow movement on a suave melody of JC Bach, who had just died. Unlike certain other fortepianists, Brautigam manages to project the modest volume of his instrument without flailing away at it, and his decorative playing flowed "like oil", as Mozart said it should. He was back yet again for the fortepiano obligato in Mozart's last and greatest concert aria, "Ch'io me scordi di te?", K505, composed in 1787 for the soprano Nancy Storace, brother of Stephen. The full-toned Rosemary Joshua delivered a beautifully phrased account.

And so to the Symphony No 40 itself, included because Mozart may have composed his last three symphonies in 1788 with the idea of returning to London to recoup his fortunes. This was fiercely driven in the outer movements, more spacious in the Andante, but so packed with intense nuance that, for once, one welcomed the taking of every possible repeat.

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