OAE/Brüggen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With its opera wars between the supporters of Gluck and Piccini and its grand orchestras contending for the latest from Haydn, pre-Revolutionary Paris was evidently a hotbed of musical activity.

Thither, in 1778, Leopold Mozart dispatched his 22-year-old son in a final attempt to establish him as Europe's greatest genius. In the event, the trip proved a professional disappointment and a personal disaster, with the death of Mozart's mother. But two of the pieces Mozart wrote to attract the Parisians formed the substance of this second of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's Listening in Paris series, under the inspirational direction of Franz Brüggen.

Or, at least, we think Mozart wrote the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K297b. It is in the same easy-going manner as the contemporaneous Concerto for Flute and Harp, K297c, and the four period instrument soloists - Lisa Beznosiuk, flute; Anthony Robson, oboe; Andrew Watts, bassoon; and Roger Montgomery, horn - had tremendous fun ducking and weaving through its final variations.

No doubt about the big Symphony No 31 in D, K297, the so-called "Paris", with its massive up-rushing string attacks and general air of a young man out to dazzle - though Brüggen's gift for imparting spontaneous nuances of light and shade added weight to a piece that can sometimes sound a little empty.

There was additional interest here, since we were offered both slow movements - the amiable original and the familiar, more developed one that Mozart was persuaded to substitute. And to offset any lowering of tension, Brüggen repeated the dashing finale as an encore.

Rather less dashing had been his account of Gluck's Overture to Iphigénie en Aulide at the beginning of the concert. All was crisp and elegant, however, in the concert's rarest novelty: the Symphony No 2 in D, Op 11, composed in 1779 by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (c1739-1799).

Born in Guadeloupe of a French planter and a slave girl and brought to Paris, he became a fencing star, rose in the military and established himself as a virtuoso violinist and composer, failing to secure the directorship of the Paris Opera only on account of racial prejudice. Some career! His Symphony, really a three-section opera overture, is full of neat invention if rarely confounding expectations - which is doubtless why it pleased the Parisians, where the disturbingly clever young Mozart did not.

Comments