Tuesday 13 February 2024

Celebrating 75 years: London Mozart Players in wonderful form for all-Mozart programme at Fairfield Halls plus the launch of 100 Faces of Croydon

Mozart: The Mixtape - Imogen Cooper, Jonathan Bloxham, London Mozart Players - Fairfield Halls (Photo: William Vann)
Mozart: The Mixtape - Imogen Cooper, Jonathan Bloxham, London Mozart Players - Fairfield Halls (Photo: William Vann via Twitter)

Mozart: The Mixtape;
 Anna Prohaska, Imogen Cooper, Martin James Bartlett, London Mozart Players, Jonathan Bloxham; Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Wonderfully vital performances with a strong presence and sense of engagement in London Mozart Player's celebratory all-Mozart programme recreating the composer's own 1783 concert in Vienna

The London Mozart Players is 75 and the centrepiece of the celebratory 2023/24 season was on Saturday 10 February 2024 at Fairfield Halls, Croydon when the orchestra's artistic associate and conductor in residence, Jonathan Bloxham directed the orchestra in a programme billed as Mozart: The Mixtape with a programme based on a celebratory concert that Mozart gave in Vienna in 1783 with Symphony No. 35 'Haffner', Piano Concerto No.13, with Imogen Cooper, Piano Concerto No. 5, with Martin James Bartlett, movements from Serenade No. 9 'Posthorn'  and arias from soprano Anna Prohaska. The evening was presented by Petroc Trelawney and will be on BBC Radio 3 on 23 February. 

But the concert also launched the orchestra's 100 Faces of Croydon. The brainchild of Jonathan Bloxham and photographer Kaupo Kikkas, 100 people from Croydon were photographed by 30 local photographers, each picked a different place in Croydon for the photograph's location. The project is available on a devoted website, but on Saturday the evening opened with the 100 faces being projected in the hall whilst the 100 people there photographed performed Ligeti's Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes. It was my first live encounter with Ligeti's piece, and the way the sound built up into an almost orgasmic moment before dying away was truly intriguing when combined with the images flashing up.

100 Faces of Croydon
images from 100 Faces of Croydon

Mozart's programme from 1783 was definitely mix and match rather than the sort of programme we are used to. So, we opened with the first three movements of the Haffner Symphony, then the aria 'Se il padre perdei' from Idomeneo, then the third and fourth movements from the Posthorn Serenade, then the concert aria Misera, dove son! then Piano Concerto no. 13, then the aria 'Come scoglio' from Cosi fan tutte (actually written in 1789 and replacing Mozart's choice of an aria from Lucio Silla), then Piano Concerto No. 5 (for which Mozart wrote a new rondo finale specially for the occasion), then the closing movement of the Haffner Symphony. And for the concert, Mozart had written new clarinet parts for the outer movement of the symphony, too.

It was a meaty programme, and was a long way from conventional modern programme. Yet organisations all over are experimenting with ideas for getting out of the straight-jacket of the overture-concerto-symphony type concert and this seemed an ideal starting point. It helped that London Mozart Players under Jonathan Bloxham's direction gave wonderfully vital performances through the evening, with a strong presence and sense of engagement, allied to great style. Also, Bloxham allowed the chamber size of the orchestra to do its work, and we enjoyed the orchestra's fine wind playing without it being overshadowed by overmeaty strings, here the strings were lithe and stylish but not too dominant. All in all, the idea way to hear Mozart on modern instruments.

The opening of the Haffner Symphony was vital and strong, with a nice contrast with the shapely quiet sections, whilst the second movement combined grace with strong character, and we ended with the robust Menuetto, with Bloxham encouraging a nice swagger from his players. Ilia's aria 'Se il padre perdei' from Idomeneo followed with Anna Prohaska's finely plangent solo complemented by lovely wind solos. And the wind section was to the fore again in the graceful third movement, Concertante and delightful fourth movement Rondo from Serenade No. 9 'Posthorn'. Both with a lovely sense of style and engagement, never hinting that the rest of the serenade was missing.

The concert aria Misera, dove son! followed. This began with a substantial accompanied recitative, where Prohaska was plangently expressive and then stylish in the aria. This latter was not always obvious, and rather striking particularly in the dramatic final section which Prohaska executed with a wonderful display of temperament.

Imogen Cooper has a long association with the orchestra, and she was in sparkling form in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 13, written not long before that 1783 concert. There was a sense of excitement to the orchestra's introduction, leading to Cooper entry which was finely stylish but also quite definite. She brought a subtle sense of no nonsense to her playing, along with great relish for the more ornamental passages, developing into real brilliance as the movement progressed. The focus of the second movement was the lovely cantilena in Cooper's right hand, with some real tender moments, then the finale was pure joyful delight with strong rhythms in the piano.

After the interval, Prohaska gave a strong, decisive account of 'Come scoglio' from Cosi fan tutte, including the vividly dramatic preceding accompanied recitative. Martin James Bartlett was the soloist in Piano Concerto No. 5. This was a favourite of Mozart's, written originally when he was 17, his first concerto not to be based on pre-existing material. For the 1783 concert, he provided a new rondo finale. The controlled excitement from the orchestra at the opening was matched by Bartlett's exuberant performance of the solo part. The second movement was beautifully sophisticated, whilst the 'new' finale really gave the soloist focus with unaccompanied sections. Bartlett brought a playfully characterful charm to the music, crisp strength contrasting with delicacy.

We ended with the vivid excitement of the final movement of the symphony, the orchestra displaying style and presence, and a continued sense of engagement. Throughout the evening, between the pieces there were short video messages wishing the orchestra well, including from Felicity Lott, who worked extensively with the orchestra, and Jane Glover, who was music director from 1984 to 1991.

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