It’s not that often you can say that a concert was pure joy, but the “French fancies” programme offered by Enrique Mazzola and the London Philharmonic Orchestra had all the ingredients to make it just that. Each of the works on their programme are particularly radiant in themselves, but made even more so as they were presented here.

Enrique Mazzola © Eric Garault
Enrique Mazzola
© Eric Garault

And what better concert opener could there be than Berlioz’s brilliant Roman Carnival overture, given a perfectly balanced performance. The brilliant colours of the orchestration shone through, with particularly refined brass playing, reaching its climax in the burnished brass only final cadence.

The Songs of the Auvergne are the only works by the French composer Joseph Canteloube that have stood the test of time. The selection of seven of the songs from across the five sets he composed were well chosen and varied in style. Performed with intelligence, sensitivity and taste by Anna Caterina Antonacci they seemed like perfectly formed jewels here. Particularly fetching was the famous Baïlèro, the mischievous Malurous qu’o uno fenno and the luscious seductiveness of Uno jionto pastouro. What Antonacci lacked in pure lustrousness of tone, she made up for in detailed and often touching characterisation.  

Georges Bizet wrote his early Symphony in C major when he was just 17 years old. It was never performed in his lifetime and was only premiered in 1935, thereafter championed by the likes of Sir Thomas Beecham. Part of a mid-19th century interest in the symphonic form in France, led by Gounod and Saint-Saens, in many ways this Bizet juvenilia outshines all the other French symphonies from the period. The freshness of its material, with a Schubertian melodic ease and a clarity of structure, make it a completely engaging experience in the concert hall.

Mazzola and the LPO found Beechamesque charm and rhythmic poise in their performance, which won so many hearts in the mid-20th century. Beautiful woodwind playing in the Adagio was counterbalanced with some rich string playing in the glorious central section. A vivacious Scherzo was capped with an even more infectious Finale. The ensemble throughout was word perfect, often giving the effect of chamber music. The crispness of the coda rounded off the performance with aplomb and, on the evidence of the enthusiastic applause, it was clearly appreciated by the audience.

The colourful world of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris could seem a million miles from the neoclassical perfection of Bizet's symphony, but something about their joyous spirit united the works. Mazzola and the LPO took something of the incisiveness that they brought to the Bizet to this performance, which also found an ample amount of rhythmic freedom when required. This fusion of Stravinsky, Ravel, Broadway and jazz never fails to please, but there was an additional edge to the playing here, bringing out the both the power of its construction and the fertility of its thematic material. Surely this remains the first great orchestral work by an American and one of the greatest musical creations of the 1920s.

****1