Mozart with English Baroque Soloists at Bristol Colston Hall

gardinerA PACKED Colston Hall enjoyed an insider’s look at Mozart’s three last symphonies before John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists played them “in earnest.”

The atmosphere of a “classical” concert has undergone a sea change in recent years. While the rigorous conductor, who is also an organic farmer in Dorset, wouldn’t dream of some of the relaxed behaviour of his younger peers, it’s worth remembering that he was one of the first Proms conductors to talk to the audience about the music his ensembles were  about to perform.

The practice is now almost the norm – who could imagine a Marin Alsop concert without the chat – but there were those in the Bristol audience on Friday who expressed “disgust” at its “unsophisticatedness.” I guess it dep­ends on whether you think that to des­cribe someone as “sophisticated” is a compliment. I think it’s the early precursor of the selfie generation … “Look at ME. I’m so much better than you. I know all about it. I was there!”

But back to the music.

Gardiner and his early music ensembles, which also include the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Roman­tique, have built up a reputation among their worldwide fans for shining new light on familiar pieces. At Bristol they demonstrated how that works.

By introducing each of symphonies 39,40 and 41 with extracts to illustrate his approach, the conductor opened Mozart’s diary for the audience. He even slowed down one passage so that the less-than-experts in the audience could clearly hear how five themes came together to a climax.

For me and for most of the very involved audience, that increased the enjoyment of the whole experience.

His violinists and viola players stood for the concert, as was the historic practice, with diminutive leader Kati Debretzeni on her own little dais.

It’s no accident that the English Baroque Soloists are so called – each player might be found as a guest soloist in concerts around the country and further afield. Gardiner’s special talent has been to take instrumentalists and singers and integrate them into a unique whole,  inspired by his mercurial insights.

It was a treat, and now Gardiner and the EBS travel to Salzburg for the Mozartwocke  from 22nd to 31st Janu­ary, along with the Monteverdi Choir.


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