For LMP Classical Club’s latest offering, Michael Collins was joined by the London Mozart Players’ four strings desk leads (a pity they weren’t named in the concert blurb). They were performing in the lofty Clock Tower of the gloriously gothic former Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras. Collins kindly informed us in his brief introduction that there would be no bells to disturb us, as none were ever installed. The occasional rumble from the busy Euston Rd below could be detected, however, but only in the breaks, so no real disruption caused.

Michael Collins
© Nick Rutter

Sadly, the camera didn’t give us much of a glimpse of the 10-metre-high tower, and the modern internal windows don’t really do justice to the surroundings. Camera shots were also rather limited, unfortunately favouring the three players on the outer edges of the quintet. I assumed this was to do with space and angles, but then in the final movement of the Mozart the camera ‘discovered’ the viola player for her variation, and we were treated to some panning shots, giving a more equal view of all the players. Watching many online performances all of a sudden does make one very aware of a camera-led view of a concert, and there is still a way to go to make this a truly enhanced experience. 

Weber’s Clarinet Quintet is often overlooked in preference for Brahms’ and, of course, Mozart’s offerings, as the latter are certainly more rewarding for string players. Weber’s quintet was clearly a showcase for his friend Heinrich Baermann, but it is a little unfair to say the strings are totally relegated to an accompanying role. Whilst this is true for much of the work, particularly the highly virtuosic Rondo finale, the strings do get a few moments of interest. Here, there was some especially sensitive pianissimo moments from the players in the operatically dramatic slow movement, and the violins took the lead with brightness in the third movement’s Trio. They also set off at an energetic gallop to allow the clarinet to really show off in the finale. Equally, despite the virtuosic showmanship required here, Collins never allowed this to take over completely, and he clearly enjoyed the communication with his fellow players, the enjoyment on his face evident, especially in the playful Minuet’s return. His virtuosic command was without doubt, but also the variety of tone was impressive, from the bright upper reaches right down to the rich depths, with Weber exploiting the instrument’s full range.  

Michael Collins and the London Mozart Players in the St Pancras Clock Tower
© Nick Rutter

And so to Mozart's quintet, a beautifully warm performance, with close communication from all and evident joy on Collins’ face. There was often a smile in his eyes as he responded to an exchange, Mozart passing a melody between instruments. Again, Collins never allowed the clarinet to dominate the texture, and first violinist Simon Blendis in particular matched Collins’ warmth of tone with equal sweetness in their exchanges in the slow movement. The scrunchy falling suspensions in that same movement are often attacked a little aggressively, as if to point them out – they don’t need that, and here they were beautifully gentle and understated. They allowed themselves a little fun in the second Trio, and they played with subtle rubato on the Minuet’s final repeat. The finale was a joy from beginning to end, and Judith Busbridge’s viola solo in the slow minor variation was heartfelt, with a gorgeously rich tone. The final brief coda was taken at a great pace, with joyous energy – I always want this to last longer when the performance is as strong is this, but Mozart brings us up short with an emphatic finish.

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