The nine members of the highly virtuosic Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin took to the stage of the Wigmore Hall on Friday night for an evening of music by composers of the Viennese Classical era. The performance on the whole was quaint and warm. The comedic and charming personalities of the players spoke through the music, adding zest to the performance.

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin © Kristof Fischer
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
© Kristof Fischer

A selection of music comprising works by Mozart, father and son, Salieri and Beethoven was a safe choice for the group in their recreation of a long winter’s night. However, the sound generated by playing well known music on period instruments was refreshing and an interesting variation to the norm.

In creating an intimate setting, the musicians were stood on stage, rather than sat down, which enabled them to move around the stage and playfully wind each other up. The amount of sound generated by the nine musicians was staggering. Despite the big sound, the music could have been played with more feeling: in some places, the music was filled with well thought out phrasing and lyricism, but in others, the performance felt prescriptive with a straight adherence to the score.

The highlight of the evening was Leopold Mozart’s Die Muskalische Schlittenfahrt (The Musical Sleigh Ride). The piece was arranged but the group’s Ernst Schlader, who also arranged the encore of Jingle Bells. In his opening monologue, Schlader read information about the group's interpretation of the piece, inviting the audience on a musical journey to Salzburg. The most important part of this piece is its jokey nature. During the Sleigh ride movement, the oboist could be seen playing one handed whilst playing sleigh bells with the other hand. The Shaking Horse was conveyed by musicians stomping and neighing, which became tiresome after a while. Thankfully the pieces are very short. The movement depicting a woman stood outside, shivering in the cold winter’s air, was heightened by the mouthpiece of the horn being used to create the sound of howling wind. Evidently, the group were highly creative in their realisation of the work. Their musical prowess allowed them to move across the stage and reenact the scene of the husband of the shivering woman tiptoeing into the house and the woman aggressively going to tell him off. This came across as slightly contrived and obvious. However, this did not detract for the overall impression of the work and the charm of the group in handing out German treats to the audience while the rest of the ensemble continued playing.

Following the interval, Mozart’s Variations on Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman, K265 was performed by several members of the ensemble as the there's gradually found their way to the stage. This was a bit informal and could have been tidier. Furthermore, this piece is annoying after the first repetition and the novelty of a variation on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star wears off swiftly. The second half most definitely did not match the character of the first half and the Salieri and Beethoven were uninspiring and did little to revive the situation. Perhaps a more differentiated repertoire would have created a more festive atmosphere.