Thursday, January 27, 2011


Forty, fifty years ago, Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin's were a constant on our musical scene. Nowadays the orchestra performs more often outside than inside the UK, Sir Neville as conductor is more likely to be heard in Germany, Melbourne or Luxembourg than London. Once upon a time the Academy had more recordings in the catalogue than anybody except Karajan. Therefore their concert in the Cadogan Hall, January 18, was a rarity to be welcomed and, as it happened, cherished.

Ancient he may be – eighty-seven next April – but the calendar was the only sign of age. The music came over fully under control, dynamic, full blooded and compelling, true music making as of old. On the brisk side, bows full or at the tip. The Academy played, it seemed, within an inch of its life.

Marriner's repertoire always tended to avoid the grander designs and deeper emotions although he has had his Bach, Handel and Mozart triumphs and I can recall a powerful Eroica, a searing Metamorphosen and heartfelt Tippett. The concert under review began with a reading of Kodaly's Dances from Galanta that leapt off the page and gripped the emotions.

Next came what might be called the Jupiter of the piano concertos, the C major, K. 503, a work that combines majesty with some tunes that remind the listener that the work dates from the time of Figaro. With the ancient marriner was the youthful German Martin Helmchen who was up to the task with virtuosity at the service of the great score, sensitively nuanced and tastefully decorated.

Finally a performance of Mendelssohn's A minor Scotch Symphony as fine as any I've heard. Felix tilted at Berlioz's discords but his own music has many even if they are discords wearing kid-gloves. The passion of the Octet and that miraculous Beethovenish A minor quartet has been greatly refined. Yet there are storms whipped up and a great deal of yearning. The form of the Scotch is interesting, the tunes catchy and the entertainment factor high. This convincing performance was followed by an encore, Percy Grainger's masterly transcription for strings of The Londonderry Air, surely one of the world's most beautiful melodies, one that never fails to produce a catch at the throat.

Come back more often to our podia, Sir Neville!