The London Mozart Players offered an all-Beethoven concert just before the latest UK lockdown. For a few sweet hours, masks were conspicuous by their absence and a good-sized live audience cheered aloud. “Social distancing R us” could be the motto of this ensemble which specializes in classical works of modest proportions. Yet, there were sufficient numbers of musicians to generate a bold, compelling sound at St John’s Smith Square, all spiffed up in noir and red like denizens of the Black Lodge on Twin Peaks.

The London Mozart Players in St John's Smith Square
© Nick Rutter

The group kicked off the program with Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, dating from around 1807 and written for a then-recent play by Heinrich Joseph von Collins (not William Shakespeare, author of Coriolanus, as some suppose). The LMP performed this eight-minute work with flair and appropriate heroic bravado. In contrast to the opening salvo, a beguiling secondary melody haunts the middle section before the work bounces back to an emotional outpouring of energy that suddenly drops to a sequence of three whispered pizzicati. All was delivered deftly and with feeling.

The second work was the Violin Concerto in D major from 1806. I had the great pleasure of hearing one of the world’s great violinists, Gil Shaham, play this on his Stradivarius a few months back, and it was pure heaven. But as essential as these maestro-mastered performances are, it’s also important to provide a showcase for young performers just starting out, and the LMP did just that in offering as its soloist the young Greek-born violinist, Jonian-Ilias Kadesha. In a pre-concert interview, the musician modestly acknowledged the magnitude of this undertaking and noted accurately that there is much that is contemporary in Beethoven’s music (whether or not the cheeky Schnittke cadenzas are included).

Jonian-Ilias Kadesha and the LMP
© Nick Rutter

The small orchestra noticeably favored the higher sounding instruments. After changing headsets a few times, I finally decided this wasn’t an equipment issue; rather, the strings could have used an additional cello or bass. Another contributing factor was that while Kadesha’s tone overall was audible, there were some thin passages that got lost in the orchestral mix.

The affable soloist put a great deal of energy and enthusiasm into his playing and struck the right notes, though some were not sustained as long as needed, and a few trills dropped off prematurely. Still, Kadesha’s pacing was good, and it is quite an accomplishment for a young violinist to perform this entire work, as taxing as it is beautiful, with an ensemble as engaging as the LMP. The program ended with an encore, Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid. 

Jonian-Ilias Kadesha
© Nick Rutter

So absorbed was I by Beethoven’s indefatigable genius and the LMP’s approach – lively and intelligent – that for three-quarters of an hour I forgot all the distressful circumstances facing musicians and ensembles during this horrible pandemic. The value of music in such circumstances is not simply to make us forget, but to arm us with courage and the intent to excel. In protecting others and ourselves, we enable the music, whose heart fills the universe, to continue to thrive in happier, healthier years ahead.

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