Review of Moffat Concert March 2014


This was indeed a Big Occasion.The programme contained three works: Cimarosa's Overture to his opera The Secret Marriage; Mozart's 23rd Piano Concerto K.488; and Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Although these only spanned some 25 years, there was great contrast of orchestral style between them. The overture got the evening off to a fine start, full of vigour and life and sharpness; the orchestra clearly needed no warming up before they got into their stride!

Then the Mozart, probably his best-loved piano concerto. Over the years it seems to me that performing speeds of so much music have increased considerably, perhaps as virtuosity, or the adulation of it, has increased. Soloists can handle this, orchestras can too. But can audiences? We need a bit of time in our one hearing to unravel the threads of what is going on moment by moment. It was thus a particular pleasure that the tempi chosen, in all three works, were measured in such a way that we could follow more of what was happening, and the musicians were playing well within themselves.

Katharine Durran's performance of the solo part was a delight throughout, every note (and there's a huge number of them!) absolutely clear, with no sustaining-pedal mushiness. The outer movements were full of joyful vivacity, and the strongly contrasting Adagio sang in a most moving manner. The orchestral textures in many of Mozart's works are so spare and transparent that there is absolutely nowhere to hide, and thus there was the occasional little bubble here and there, which however did not get in the way of our enjoyment. A lovely performance of a lovely work.

And so to the Beethoven. Though it's often held that his even-numbered symphonies are his lighter ones while the odd numbers (except the transitional number 1) are the stern ones, number 7 is in fact more of a compromise; it has all the weight of the odds but also the ebullient joy of the evens. And both these qualities came over strongly in this highly uplifting performance. There were some very exciting moments, such as the build-ups to the climaxes in the two outer movements, and I was grateful to the programme notes for drawing our attention to those high notes from the horns at two points during the Finale - they really do exhilarate the listener. Just occasionally there was a slight smudging of an entry, probably only apparent because of the exemplary crispness of everything else. Sometimes it seems as if Beethoven's orchestral endings are somewhat laboured, as he adds chord after chord in order to "get it right", but this work has superb final moments to its movements; brisk, economical and unquestioningly final, and the orchestra brought these off to a brilliant effect - one was left breathless!

It was wonderful that this team of players, all amateurs in the best senses (non-professionals, and lovers of their art), could lay on a concert to this standard with such limited rehearsal time available. Amongst very many other delights, the playing of the 1st oboe and 1st flute stood out for me as they seemed to pass the baton from one to the other with such sure touch so often during these works. But the whole concert was full of delights and this was an evening which I am sure will be long remembered in Moffat, and in a wide area beyond. And rightly so!