OAE/Levin, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Monday 03 March 2008
What a joy for a change not to have some conductor interposing his emotional semaphore between an orchestra that was plainly enjoying the mutual give-and-take of their parts and an audience that was equally enjoying the results. This Mozart-Beethoven concert in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's current "Revolution" series was simply directed, à la period, from the first violin by the vivacious guest leader Kati Debretzeni, with co-ordinating cues from the American fortepianist Robert Levin in the concertos.
The gain in spontaneity and directness of communication was palpable; nor, despite upwards of 40 players on stage, was there any looseness of ensemble. The opening Overture to Mozart's one-act opera buffa Der Schauspieldirektor, K486, positively crackled with precision and electricity. Levin chose to make his first appearance with a moody rendition of Mozart's tragic Rondo in A minor, K511, for fortepiano alone, to adjust our ears to the modest volume of the instrument.
Yet he and the OAE then proceeded to deliver just about the most dramatic and exciting account of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, K466, that the Queen Elizabeth Hall can ever have heard. How fierce, cutting, indeed revolutionary, sounded the tutti outbursts of the opening movement; how turbulent the central episode of the slow movement, how implacably driven the finale, till at the last moment it turns to comedy – and the boiling cadenzas Levin apparently improvised on the spot genuinely amplified the impact.
After this, even the stop-go shock tactics of Beethoven's stark Coriolan Overture Op 62 sounded comparatively orderly, if not mannered. And Mozart's relatively playful and lyrical Piano Concerto No 21 in C major, K467, was necessarily more relaxed. Yet in the magically floating Andante, Levin offered an exemplary demonstration of 18th-century rubato: melody freely inflected every which way over absolutely steady accompaniment. And in his finale cadenza he naughtily teased the orchestra as to when he was going to let it come in again. This intensity, this delight, we were persuaded, is the way that classical music can ever be made anew.
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