The English Concert/ Manze, Wigmore Hall, London

Among his other more recherché concerns, The English Concert's new violinist-director Andrew Manze seems to be running an intensive campaign on behalf of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525. Do not underrate it - he urges us from the Wigmore Hall stage - just because you hear it piped as background at every other supermarket checkout. Mozart may have scribbled it in haste in 1787, but it remains a perfect product of his maturity, deserving the closest attention.

Whereupon he proceeds to lead his period string players through a performance underlining every possible point of dynamic articulation and shading. Instead of the usual dainty tiptoe through the minor key episode of the Andante we get an outburst fraught with emotion, while the development section of the Finale is beefed up into a rampage twice through. For all this, Mozart's serenade still comes over as a haven of neat normality compared with the eccentricity of the rest of the programme.

What was it that got into composers in the 1770s that produced so many instances of the oddity and wildness collectively known as Sturm und Drang? Haydn's middle period Symphony No 64 in A "Tempora Mutantur" - which might be translated as "The times they are a-changin'" - centres on a Largo in which recurrent silences are inserted so unpredictably that the ear is baffled as to its true phrasing. This draws especially hushed, concentrated playing from the 18 English Concert players somehow crammed onto the Wigmore Hall stage - roughly the number Haydn himself would have had at Esterhaza.

Even Mozart himself had his quirky flights, inserting into the finale of his Violin Concerto in A, K219 (the last he wrote for his own performance in 1775) an atavistic episode traditionally assumed to be in the "Turkish" manner then popular in Austria. Manze, however, thinks Mozart was more likely imitating the Hungarian gypsy style of the day and he proceeds to direct from his solo violin about the fastest, fiercest reading of the passage ever.

As for the Orchestra-Symphony No 1 in D Wq 183/1 by the oldest of the 1770s composers, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach... Here there seems to be virtually no material or substance at all in the traditional sense. All is passionate gesture, discontinuity, weird chop and change, with a briefly dulcet central movement abruptly short-circuited by a rumbustious Finale full of tricky cross rhythms and flaring orchestral detail. And so spirited is the reading, one finally forgets the slightly suspect intonation of the first violins and textural over-dominance of the horns that, earlier on, had occasionally qualified this intriguing concert.

Comments