Mozart equates with God in Andrea Colombini’s mind and so it does with me and almost everyone I know too. It was, therefore, with eager anticipation last Saturday evening that I headed towards the beautiful acoustics of the church of the Servites in Lucca to hear Andrea invoking our god with his baton.
Increasingly used to period instruments I wondered how ‘big-band’ Mozart would sound like under Colombini’s magic conducting. I need not have worried: it sounded magnificent, dramatic and supernal.
There is absolutely no doubt that ‘early’ music research has influenced today’s performance practices using modern instruments. What this means is that tempi and dynamics have responded stylistically and idiomatically. Minuets, for example, are taken faster, woodwind and brass are not obfuscated by strings but given more highlighting, and Klemperian-style Beethovenian shades when playing this heavenly composer are not allowed to distract the music’s flow (‘guarda il filo’ as Mozart’s authoritarian father used to emphasize to his prodigious son).
The trilogy of symphonies Mozart composed three years before his sadly premature death from rheumatic fever in 1791 are a testament to different aspects of his instrumental music.
Symphony no 39 relates to an increasing inclination to begin symphonies with a slow introduction (a favourite of Mozart’s great admirer, Joseph Haydn, in his later symphonies) and a very cantabile start to the exposition. (Perhaps we’ll hear this symphony together with the dramatic Don Giovannesque symphony no 38 in Colombini’s next all-Mozart concert?).
Symphony no 40 with its semi-tonal, almost obsessive, main theme points both back to the ‘Sturm und Drang’ period of music-making and forwards to the dawn of romanticism. Andrea was right in not hastening the first movement but in allowing the theme full breathing space. Too many performances are spoilt by frenetic speeds here. I do hope that Andrea will consider giving the exposition twice in future performance of these symphonies, however. Their material deserves it!
The fine woodwind of the Lucca Philharmonic were fully displayed in the lyrical, yet still anguished, heart-beating, slow movement. The minuet and trio would cast a neurotic gloom in any ballroom, such had this form gravitated away from the bright candlelight and powdered wigs of a rococo dance hall. The finale for me is the most prophetic of the symphony’s movements: its development section opens with an almost atonal theme creating those chromatic ambiguities which characterise so many of Mozart’s later works.
The emotional pressure was relieved by the Rondo for Piano and orchestra K382 whose ritornello is a jaunty march-like theme of disarmingly papagenian simplicity. It’s not my favourite of the two pieces Mozart wrote in this form (perhaps to provide an alternative ending to some of his piano concerti?). K382 is rather finer with a melting second theme. (I do hope to hear it too in a future Colombini concert) but K382 was beautifully played by 23-year old soloist, Ludovico Troncanetti from Siena
I don’t know where the Jupiter symphony no 41 got its nickname from but this is surely the godliest instrumental work from the god-like composer. There’s nothing soft about the opening. Instead, an Olympian tonic-dominant theme accompanied by trumpet and drums predicts this is going to be a work of positive energy and noble fulfilment.
The mood is chastened in the honeyed distillation of the slow movement, followed by the incredibly chromatic theme of the minuet, only to rise up in a blaze of miraculous counterpoint in the fugal finale. Note, I write fugal because the finale is strictly in sonata form with the most dextrous counterpoint. The moment when the three main themes come together in the coda is overwhelmingly, achingly supreme. Andrea was correct at this point to emphasize the glorious horn call of a theme which, in lesser hands, would have served merely as a boring academic exercise. Here it shone forth in all the colours of the rainbow and brought the symphony to an ecstatic conclusion.
The house (which now had realised it’s not always good manners to clap between movements) was duly enthusiastic in its applause and we left the church and wandered back to our car outside the city walls light-footed and with our minds definitely on cloud nine.
Thankyou yet again Andrea for bringing to the people of Lucca (and the Lucchesia) transformational music from the greatest of geniuses and played with superb aplomb, great style and true, enthusiastic devotion.
Colombini’s charisma is such that he makes the orchestra feel it’s going to be a unique performance rather than a work-a-day one. This is truly the sign of a great conductor. I’m sure that, as a result, the audience gave generously to the charity which supports relief work in Africa at the end of the concert.
My only hope that we won’t have to wait too long to hear another message from Salzburg’s (and now Lucca’s) musical god. Perhaps would it be too much to suggest symphony no 38 (Prague) followed by the piano rondo K382 and concluded by symphony no 39?