I haven't attended a concert in the relatively new series of "Tea and Symphony" before and not found the format of a seventy minute concert without interval enticing, particularly as it consisted of three relatively straightforward works and one very complex one.

James Ehnes © Benjamin Ealovega
James Ehnes
© Benjamin Ealovega

Two Mozart rondos bracketed the Serenade for Wind Instruments by Richard Strauss. The first, K269 in B flat, was written by the 20 year old prodigy in 1776 as a replacement finale for his first Violin Concerto as requested by Neapolitan violinist Antonio Brunetti, although it's the original finale that has stood the test of time. This rondo has a rhythmical quality and the subtle interplay between the violin and strings was a noticeable feature that gave it status as a stand alone piece. Doubled horns and oboes played their part in supporting the soloist/ director James Ehnes, who highlighted the work's playful character.

The second Rondo in C was also written for Brunetti but as an individual piece for a reception given by Archbishop Collaredo for his father. It is etched in history that Collaredo also terminated Mozart's employment in a famously abrupt manner! 

Written for the same combination of instruments but in quite a different character, this Rondo is graceful, with a relaxed charm, ending unusually with the solo instrument asking an unanswered question. Again the soloist, playing on a Marsick Stradivarius elegantly brought out the music's meaning.

Mozart did not get on with Brunetti,which is hardly surprising since he constantly slated his friend Joseph Leutgeb's horn playing,admittedly playfully,and didn't think much of any flautist.The difference,however,is that he appreciated Brunetti's musical ability but ,though hardly a paragon of virtue himself,objected to his morals and particularly his treatment of members of the fairer sex.

Richard Strauss composed his Serenade for Winds at the age of 17 and maintained a soft spot for it throughout his life. Scored for paired flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns and contrabassoon, it is a relaxed piece which starts slowly with chords reminiscent of Wagner. It's interesting to note that Strauss' father, Franz, took pains to warn his son of having his music contaminated by that of Wagner! 

Other melodies develop which are more characteristic of the composer's later style and even presage his bent for storytelling. On the whole, it flowed beautifully here, helped by some intricate and accurate playing.

60 years later, Strauss embarked on Metamorphosen, an expansive work for string orchestra, with its title referring to Goethe's concept of changes to his mindset reflected in his literary works over the progress of his life. Written around the time of his famous Four Last Songs, it is probably influenced by Schoenberg's Transfigured Night in its development of a basic "chamber" work into a larger form. It would seem that Strauss hadn't followed his father's wishes to the letter as the slow introduction again had Wagnerian resonances. These were soon lost as the work became more dramatic in character with rapidly repeated major-minor modulations then subsiding into an ethereal quality. The well known reference to Beethoven's Eroica funeral march was not at all intrusive (Strauss maintained it was accidental) and the music flowed with sad undertones.

"In Memoriam" was written on the score near the ending and, although the piece was commissioned, it clearly represents a passage of the composer's life and his reactions to changes in musical form which were anathema to him. The orchestra again shone under Ehnes' direction so that the character of a difficult piece came over clearly.

There was great contrast and variety in this short concert which gave an overall warm feeling that was generously appreciated.