John Humphreys and Philip Martin CBSO
Adrian Boult Hall & Symphony Hall * * *
Review by Christopher Morley
Although this entire year has been about celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday, Tuesday marked the 215th anniversary of his death, and two significant concerts brought us works of immense stature to grace the occasion.
A lunchtime concert at the Adrian Boult Hall featured Birmingham Conservatoire tutors John Humphreys and Philip Martin in Mozart works for piano duet – though these pieces for four hands on one piano were here delivered with each pianist on his own instrument.
Despite Humphreys' adroit arguments that such a disposition permitted greater freedom of movement, with no collision of fingers, in fact the arrangement raised other questions: resonances were different with textures which had been tailored, after all, to one piano, and there were strains on ensemble, too.
But never mind. These were performances brimming with life, from the substantial C major Sonata K521, through the charming Theme and Variations K501, and ending with the Sonata in F K497 and its shifting sound-worlds.
From the same happy period in Mozart's life comes the Prague Symphony, no.38 K504, and it made a delightful opener to Tuesday evening's CBSO concert.
Under Sir Charles Mackerras, one of our great Mozarteans, it received an energetic reading which combined athleticism with grandeur, and which drew a resourceful range of response from the orchestra, with strings neat and deft in the outer movements and richly cushioning the languorous woodwind in the gorgeous andante.
After this sheer joy, controversy came after the interval, with the Birmingham premiere of Robert Levin's expert completion of Mozart's great Mass in C minor.
The Requiem on which Mozart was working when he died obviously needed to be padded out before it could achieve performance, but the C minor Mass has long been a repertoire staple in its unfinished state. So completion now seems something of a superfluous exercise.
However deft and scholarly Levin's input, many of the Mozart sketches from which he worked should probably have stayed in the composer's waste-paper bin. Other, more substantial material-modifications had the effect of altering the character of this grim torso, and the ending was decidedly trivial.
But the performance, with an inspired CBS Chorus and an efficient solo quartet, headed by the divine warbling of sopranos Sarah Fox and Rosemary Joshua, added to Mackerras' well-turned orchestra, was committed, devoted and tried its utmost to be persuasive.