Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Krivine, Barbican Hall, London

A flat evening without a spark or a bang

By Adrian Jack
Tuesday 10 December 2013 03:36
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The Barbican's series Mostly Mozart started with a concert so dull, you needed the fireworks party afterwards to put a bit of sparkle into the proceedings. The opening tutti of Mozart's C major Piano Concerto, K467, set the pedestrian mood for the evening, with the conductor Emmanuel Krivine failing to goad the Academy of St Martin in the Fields into any semblance of life.

Perhaps this was why the soloist, Louis Lortie, took an uncharacteristically bullish approach to his part, for he had nothing to respond to. With no chemistry between him and the orchestra, the work became a solo against a mere backdrop.

Perhaps, too, the very bright-toned Fazioli piano made a lighter, more subtly expressive style hard to achieve, and there was a good deal of thumping from the pedal. In the middle "Elvira Madigan" movement, Lortie's embellishments were a bit startling, as if he were about to break loose into a flight of jazz, but there was not much joy or buoyancy in the finale. The programme book told you what a cadenza was in general terms, but it didn't point out that the cadenzas for this concerto were not by Mozart, and didn't identify who wrote them.

For Mozart's incomplete Mass in C minor there was an oddly assorted quartet of soloists – an Italian soprano Patrizia Biccirè, Lynne Dawson as the deeper soprano, the French tenor Yann Beuron, and a slightly reticent French bass, Stéphane Degout. Stravinsky called Mozart's Masses "rococo-operatic sweets-of sin". If only. Too often his heart wasn't in it, but the C minor work was to have been a showpiece, written possibly to show off the voice of his wife Constanze and drawing on a range of styles. Krivine made a dull thing of the opening Kyrie, which was rhythmically flat, and Patrizia Biccirè's small, though clear, voice was less than inspiring.

As for the operatic display in the "Laudamus te" section of the Gloria, which is potentially so thrilling, Lynne Dawson treated it like a rather unpleasant athletic exercise with several different types of voice, all to distinctly uncomfortable effect. The Latin words of the Mass may be familiar, even today, and we had them in the programme, but they also need to be heard, and the Academy Chorus did little to project them, even in the Credo, when they need particularly crisp articulation.

Patrizia Biccirè did her winsome solo in the "Et incarnatus est" section delicately, and it wasn't her fault that the final cadenza, in which a number of woodwind soloists join the singer, seemed heavy going. This performance confined itself to the sections Mozart managed to complete, and for once, it was a relief he didn't write more.

Mostly Mozart continues to 3 August (020-7638 8891)

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