This was a real tickling of the tastebuds. As the nation tightens its belt for an other round of social restrictions, and with balmy summer evenings now turning into blustery rain, the London Mozart Players played a blinder in this online concert – short and sweet, but substantial in emotional range and proving to be an ideal opener to its Classical Club series. And just to show that tapping into the creative juices is not just the prerogative of the performers, let’s also give a shout-out to the production teams, who did the players proud, providing fine camera angles and exploring the optimum performance space at the orchestra’s home venue.

Maciej Kulakowski
© Nick Rutter

Self-directed from the leader’s desk by the irrepressible Ruth Rogers, the LMP offered plenty to lift the spirits and tug at the heartstrings, starting with an unprogrammed palette cleanser as a thoughtful reflection of the year we’ve had so far. Rogers was joined by principal cellist Sebastian Comberti in a sensitive reading of Massanet’s Méditation from Thaïs before the orchestra skated purposefully through Prokofiev’s neat and perfectly formed Symphony no. 1 in D major, “Classical”. From the outset, there was a clear sense of joy in the playing – the strings were refreshingly light and crisp, the winds and brass luminous and articulate, and there was an overriding sense of care in the shaping of the piece. 

The opening Allegro was rather more leisurely than most, but this did serve to reveal some of the inner detail that can sometimes be lost when more adventurous tempos are used. The LMP combined beautifully in the Larghetto to imbue a comforting warmth within its delicate textures, with the quirky Gavotte a stately but fleeting glimpse before the skittish Finale fizzed through with verve. A couple of minor timing issues aside, commitment and musicality won the day in this thrilling and effervescent performance.

In lists of great cello pieces, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor doesn’t usually take top spot. By its very nature, it avoids dazzling displays of the instrument’s capabilities or any attempts to allow the virtuoso soloist to show off. Instead, Schumann felt he must try for “something else”, and while there is certainly a fair sprinkle of subtle introspection, it is nevertheless an incredibly expressive piece with one or two quite remarkable features. It is this combination that appeals to Maciej Kulakowski, another fine product of the Young Classical Artists Trust, whose performance with the LMP was cultured, uncomplicated and highly lyrical. 

Kulakowski’s fluidity and clean tones suited this music well, with Schumann’s sparing orchestration affording soloist and orchestra some intimacy, almost chamber-like at times. A thoughtful and unhurried first movement revealed some wonderful dialogue, with Kulakowski’s lightness of touch impressively peppering the more expansive lines to create the necessary light and shade. The second movement was lusciously seductive, the glorious duet with the principal cellist being a particular highlight, and the sheer vibrancy of the third movement Rondo was lithe and gutsy, with a meditative cadenza. For all of this, I still felt that there was more in the tank, but this was nevertheless a nicely judged performance, well-conceived in shape and balance, and showing a clear symbiotic relationship between soloist and orchestra.

To close, the LMP strings performed an arrangement of Schumann’s Träumerei to send us off, dreaming... (maybe of packed concert halls?)

This performance was reviewed from the LMP's Classical Club video stream