In the first of three Mozart anniversary concerts with conductor Kenneth Montgomery, the Orchestra of St Cecilia illustrated the growing fashion for placing modern instruments at the service of historically informed interpretation.
Montgomery was clearly less concerned with strictly directing the music than with optimising performance potential. Frequently entrusting the time-keeping to the players themselves, he encoraged them to respond to the music and to each other.
This informal approach may have made for some loose coordination at times, but it ensured that there could be nothing drab or routine about the execution. The OSC's constitution and layout were not without disadvantages. From their raised position, the oboes could be altogether too vivid to integrate with the dozen or so strings.
And with the second violins and violas positioned on the right - thus projecting their sound away from most of the audience - the string balance could verge on the hollow. At their best, however, the balances resulted in lively, ear-opening effects: silky chording from the upper strings in the andante of the Violin Concerto K218, a cheery fife-and-drum chorus from the winds in the first movement of the Piano Concerto K467, and a well-disposed tutti in the minuet of the Jupiter Symphony K551.
Catherine Leonard was an agreeable and sweet-toned soloist in the Violin Concerto, sustaining a charming and silvery legato that gave way to more pointed textures only the finale. Clearly in his element in the Piano Concerto, soloist Finghin Coliins sat facing the audience at a lidless instrument, surrounded on three sides by the orchestra.
In this historical stage formation, the piano seemed to enjoy easier conversation with the winds in particular, and the solo passage work had a driving rather than a merely decorating effect.
Andrew Johnstone, 10-06