The billing looked intriguing enough: Kevin Griffiths – the young London-born conductor, celebrated for his dedication to contemporary music, coupled with his fellow countryman Paul Lewis – one of today’s prominent performers of Beethoven and particularly Schubert, in an evening dedicated to Mozart’s music. Still, the odd one out in the sonic equation seemed to be the Kammerorchester Berlin, who, although obviously proficient enough to play anything put in front of them, sounded a little too thin.

Kevin Griffiths
Kevin Griffiths

It may be a case of pure personal taste, but I tend to believe that Mozart’s music does not lend itself well to reduction. Mozart’s orchestration is so precise, so well thought-out and organized, that you are likely to realize the absence of even one single instrument in the mix. Straight from the opening chords of the enigmatic Lucio Silla symphony in D major, Kammerorchester Berlin’s outnumbered strings section, much as they played with no audible faults to speak of, sounded buried under the winds sections – which were adequately numbered as per Mozart’s orchestral intentions.

The composer, as far as we know, never intended for the Lucio Silla overture to be played independently as a symphony. (The overture to Il Re Pastore is the only operatic music that Mozart himself rearranged to be performed as such.) The manuscripts for a “Sinfonia in D” in four parts, which bore three movements from Lucio Silla with an added Menuet (for which there is evidence that it was in fact composed by Michael Haydn) were found with no autograph entries from the composer himself. So it is only suiting that the music, when played separately, is billed as the “Lucio Silla Overture”, and played without the Menuet, as was the case this evening. The music is enjoyable as an overture, but is vastly inferior in its scope to his more significant Salzburg-era symphonies in general.

The Symphony no. 41 in C major, “Jupiter”, on the other hand, is arguably Mozart’s finest in the genre. The Kammerorchester Berlin played the tutti eruptions with much vigor and excitement, channeling Kevin Griffiths’ energetic lead. The conductor kept up his lively approach through the lyrical second subject into a brisk and loud (as can be, under the circumstances) fanfare section. I thought that was a wise choice, since too much contrast could easily give away the lack of sufficient orchestral power. The Andante cantabile of the Jupiter Symphony may very well be one of Mozart’s finest moments in writing a slow dance. The weakness of the orchestra’s aggregate sound was a deterrent here again – particularly during the phrases where the normally slight dissonance in the woodwind section ended up occupying more sonic space than usual. Still, Griffiths’ appropriate Sarabande rhythm made for a pleasant listening.

Although I would rather hear Paul Lewis play a Beethoven concerto, it was a respite, at least, that the Mozart concerto chosen for the evening was one of his longest in duration. The Concerto no. 25 in C major, in the same key as the symphony, is festive, lively, and at times even bombastic. The Kammerorchester played the opening section in a majestic but reserved manner, accommodating Lewis’ controlled entry. The rest of the 432-measure movement (the longest in Mozart’s orchestral works) continued in a similar manner, the piano and the orchestra bowing to the same winds as the music dips in and out of minor territory. Kevin Griffiths didn’t even have to work for providing a continuous balance between the two sides. Lewis eyed the orchestra frequently, took and gave cues accordingly and brought the Allegro maestoso to a fine finish.

The Andante benefited from its reliance on winds, particularly the woodwinds: the music just sounded better when the strings were not in control. Paul Lewis continued to show utmost restraint throughout the movement, playing in a soft, pensive mode. The originally unmarked tempo of the Rondo was decreed a fast Allegretto by the conductor, which made for a fun, almost overture-like opening. Lewis, accordingly, played his heavily ornamented entry fast and swift, showcasing an absolutely even playing in his runs up and down the keyboard. He kept his dynamics in the middle almost during the course of the movement, not exhibiting much expression. This regal playing from both the orchestra and the pianist was one of the highlights of the evening.

Overall, as much as it was a satisfying listening experience, the evening tip-toed around dull territory that did not offer much in the way of variety.

**111