Photo, Sisi Burn

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

The members of Les Siècles have a variety of instruments in their armoury, to match the era of whatever music is being played. Up-to-date for Ligeti, centuries older for Mozart. The former’s early Concert Românesc is a collection of Romanian musical heirlooms – picturesque, lively, open-air at dawn (horn-calls across the meadows) and the fiery Finale (occasionally an encore, including at the Proms, Bamberg Symphony/Jonathan Nott) – with some indigenous correspondences to Enescu’s two Rhapsodies, with the young Ligeti already pointing the way to his older self, such as the wit and whimsy of the stylistically-nomadic, yet always true to himself, Violin Concerto, 1993, from forty years later, with a very personal orchestration including ocarinas and Swanee whistles, and also involving re-tunings, the violin stealing in (once a ringing mobile had ceased) as if from another planet to launch music that stretches and satisfies the ear through five movements and thirty minutes, sometimes rapid and complexly multi-layered, or tenderly chorale-like, direct, and often with great intensity – always enjoyably unpredictable – here played with relish and aplomb by Isabelle Faust in partnership with Les Siècles and François‐Xavier Roth. Ligeti left a cadenza for the final movement, with an invitation to the soloist to look elsewhere if desired – there’s one by Thomas Adès, and Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays her own – and on this occasion Faust opted for Oscar Strasnoy’s, which she collaborated on and fits nicely before Ligeti dismisses the work with a slap on the wrist. For an encore Faust played ‘Dolorosa’, spare but alluring, by another György, Kurtág, from his Signs, Games and Messages.

A significant change of timbre for the Mozart, beginning with the A-major Piano Concerto (No.23; K488), Alexander Melnikov playing a fortepiano borrowed from Wigmore Hall, the pianist joining in with the opening tutti. It was a gentle performance as befits the nature of the solo instrument, Melnikov not without some wrong notes/awkwardness though and, surprisingly, relatively few ornamental additions. Somewhat bland in the outer movements, the slow one fared best, secretive, with some beguiling woodwind chirrups. As for the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony (No.41; K551) – a first movement of energy and crispness, with vivid trumpets and timpani, if a little unrelenting, and the Andante cantabile would have benefitted from greater repose, followed by a virile, dancing, and tempo-indivisible Minuet & Trio, if with dubious pauses. The great Finale was hallmarked as the first movement, but having observed every repeat thus far Roth then passed over the all-important second-half repetition, which is Illogical and proved ruinous to the whole.