Proms Malcolm; Pinnock Royal Albert Hall

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
George Malcolm's contribution to the revival of interest in early music rarely merits more than a brief footnote or fond anecdote. And yet the versatile musician was among those whose work prepared the way for today's breed of historically aware performers. Two Proms programmes revealed the extent of the contrasts and similarities between Malcolm's stylish approach to the Viennese classics and that of Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert, one of Britain's oldest period-instrument bands.

The brisk pace adopted by the 79-year-old Malcolm for the opening movements of Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony and Piano Concerto No 22 owed little to the "authentic" dictates of early music purists but rather derived from a sensitive awareness of style, extracting edge-of-the-seat playing from the English Chamber Orchestra. Above all, he encouraged the ECO to perform with care and intelligence, allowing phrases to ebb and flow, and applying rubato naturally.

Andrs Schiff, a former pupil of Malcolm's, admirably reflected his mentor's musicianship in two Mozart piano concertos, the extrovert No 19 in D major and the sublime No 22 in E flat major. His unmannered lyrical style, richly coloured and eternally expressive, was matched to perfection by the ECO's wind principals, who also contributed greatly to the success of Malcolm's confident but never aggressive account of the Brahms St Anthony Variations.

Confidence and colour were certainly the dominant impressions left by Pinnock and the English Concert in a neatly tailored programme of works by Mozart and Haydn. The spry rhythms and easy tunes of Mozart's early Symphony No 23, making its Proms debut, were brought to life in the most vigorous, appealing style, directed by Pinnock from the harpsichord. Haydn's majestic Mass in Time of War fared less well, despite some atmospheric moments and a dramatic, nerve-tingling account of the Agnus Dei. The rhythmic crispness and clear contrasts of instrumental tone generated by the English Concert and its splendid choirsuccessfully cut through the unhelpful Albert Hall acoustics, although the physical effort involved all too often undermined the melodic flow.

Pinnock's soloists, an oratorio dream team of Susan Gritton, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, John Mark Ainsley and Gerald Finley, restored line and legato to proceedings. Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony was launched with a wham- bang first movement balanced by a passionately lyrical view of the Andante cantabile. The elegance of George Malcolm's Mozart was replaced here to thrilling effect by vivacious, earthy playing, crowned by a helter- skelter dash through the contrapuntal finale.

Comments