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Mostly Mozart at the Barbican - Bach, Mozart, Brahms

Jennifer Pike (violin)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields / Harry Christophers (conductor)

Barbican Hall, London, 3 August 2007

This, the penultimate concert in the Barbican’s annual Mostly Mozart festival, was an event that grew in scale as it progressed.

Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto found a group of 10 strings (three violins, violas and cellos with 1 double bass) on stage along with a harpsichord. Although slender in size this modest complement produced some pointed playing, particularly in the outer movements, if not at the sprightliest of tempos.

The first movement of the Mozart concerto in G found Jennifer Pike rather taxed at times; her playing lacked something in the way of quicksilver brilliance that perhaps will come with still greater experience. The challenge was only increased by the cadenza, in which the double-stopping was a touch too effortful. In any case, who advised her that the cadenza was suitable for Mozart? To me, the two sounded barely connected. A fair degree of repose was found in the middle movement, to the continued accompaniment of crisply articulated string and woodwind figures. The final movement picked up a little in terms of sprightly brio from both soloist and orchestra.

Brahms’s mighty first symphony, which the composer described as “long and not exactly amiable”, found the Academy of St Martin in the Fields often relishing the cut and thrust of Harry Christophers’ chosen tempos and dynamic emphases. To my ears at least, the small details matter as much in Brahms as the grand gestures. Details such as the ability to seamlessly mould individual lines into a convincingly powerful whole. They almost got there too, but perhaps it was all just a touch too precisely played. That said, the brass clearly pulled out the stops, as did all sections of the strings, to give a characterful reading of the work that showed Christophers’ clear grasp of contrast and form across the four movements.

Evan Dickerson