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Simon Callaghan’s interpretation was superb

Classical Source, Antony Hodgson

Simon Callaghan (piano) & principal players of the London Mozart Players: Simon Blendis & Jenny Godson (violins), Judith Busbridge (viola), Sebastian Comberti (cello), Stacey Watton (double bass) & Michael Cox (flute) – Conway Hall

Mozart Serenade in G, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Beethoven, arr. Vinzenz Lachner Piano Concerto No.3 in C-minor, Op.37
Bottesini Elegy No.1 in D [arranged]
Haydn, arr. Johann Peter Salomon Symphony No.102 in B-flat

This skilled ensemble from the London Mozart Players successfully revealed the inner workings of well-known musical masterpieces through interesting arrangements. The players opened with a spick and span Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The use of one instrument to a part is a perfectly acceptable way of presenting the work and added definition from double bass resulted from it. This was a stylish, clear-cut approach with an especially springy Minuet but, surprisingly, the conventionally observed exposition repeats of the outer movements were omitted.

The arrangement by Vinzenz Lachner (1811-1893) of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was published in 1881 (the programme mistakenly attributed it to his brother Franz). String quartet and double bass replace the orchestra and they cleverly substitute the wind parts. Although in unfamiliar instrumental guise, every melody from within the orchestra is represented – even the timpani solo at the end of the first-movement cadenza is adequately represented by pizzicato bass. A rich viola part represents much of the woodwind with second violin catching the flute contribution although a cello is not of ideal timbre to replace the bassoon. As for the solo part – the placing of the bright-toned piano behind the strings was ideal and only rarely did it overpower the modest ensemble.

Simon Callaghan’s interpretation was superb: absolute clarity, absolute precision. The swift straightforwardness was refreshing – no romantic relaxations here, just powerful Beethoven. The spare accompaniment allowed inner keyboard parts to be heard in great detail. The impetus of this performance gave a symphonic nature to the work, a very fine interpretation.

Giovanni Bottesini’s Elegy No.1 is played reasonably frequently in the version with piano but here string quartet supported Stacey Watton. I know of two editions for strings (Musikproduktion Höflich, arranged Wood, and Mesa Music, arranged Scott) and both give the option of quartet or quintet so I assume one or other of these was employed. It is a truly beautiful piece and Watton phrased the principal melody with the utmost sensitivity, the accompaniment was ideal and helped make this a serene experience.

Haydn had barely completed his final visit to London before a publication entitled “XII Grand Symphonies, by Haydn, arranged as Quintets, by J. P. Salomon” became available. Some unpublished examples may even have been performed before Haydn’s departure from England. The scoring is for flute, first and second violins, viola and cello. Initially, use of keyboard continuo was assumed and in his first arrangement Salomon included a figured bass but not thereafter and it is doubtful if this instrument would have been included in performance – there certainly seems no need for it.

Symphony 102 is a good example to choose because there are several important solo moments for flute. This was an excellent reading with ideal tempos, and repeats properly observed. All the tunes are there although I wish a double bass had been included. I recall hearing a performance of the work in this hall some years ago and memorably those horns in high B-flat rang out excitingly, assisted by the glass roof: thank you Mr Salomon for underlining their spectacular descent from the stratosphere in the Minuet by representing it on the flute. There are many clever instrumental replacements in this edition but the original orchestral colours still remained in the mind. This was such an intelligently realised, superbly played rendering that the genius of Haydn was still portrayed.

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