OAE/Norrington/Levin, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/twostar.gif"></img>

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The Independent Culture

Least blame attached to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment itself. One felt for the young player who agreed to deputise for the OAE's indisposed first oboe, Anthony Robson, at shortest notice in a programme crammed with exposed phrases. But it would be idle to pretend that her unvaried tone and too varied intonation were always a joy, particularly in the knife-edge balances of phrasing and tuning demanded by the radiant Quintet for Piano and Wind in E flat, K452, which opened the second half.

And if the OAE were occasionally less than exactly together in the great Piano Concerto No 24 in C minor, K491, this was doubtless because they were having to deal with two conductors. One, Sir Roger Norrington, would not have been there at all in an 18th-century performance. As it was, he sat on a high stool, back to the first violins, giving nonchalant gestures from time to time, while a hyperactive Robert Levin, all swoonings and pop-eyes, cued various players from the fortepiano.

There remained much to savour in Mozart's woodwind writing, especially elaborate and subtle in this score, and Levin improvised a suitably stormy first movement cadenza. Norrington's account of the Overture to Don Giovanni , K527, at the start was also inspiriting, once past the unacceptably fast pace he set for its awesome opening. Andante may have meant at a walking-pace to Mozart, but scarcely a brisk march.

Best was the concluding Symphony No 38 in D major, K504. True, there were all Norrington's habitual Pantaloon-like cavortings that it was better not to watch. But here the playing of the outer movements had real rhythmic lift and joy, largely thanks to the conductor's re-insinuation of all the phrasings and dynamic shadings that harder-line period performers strove to eliminate. What price "authenticity" now?