Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 ‘Gran Partita’

It fizzed, it sparkled, but didn’t quite pack that extra punch, writes HARRY HICKMORE

CUCO culc cums CUMS lunchtime concert gran partita lunchtime concerts Mozart Nokia punch sambuka West Road Concert Hall will ball will cole

1.10pm, Tuesday 7th February, West Road Concert Hall, Free (Donations to CUMS)


In theory, this lunchtime concert had everything: thirteen of the University’s best wind players, the CUCO Wind Ensemble, all arched around one of the faculty’s most talented musicians, 2nd year conductor Will Cole, playing to an audience of a size that would satisfy an evening concert. Yet something wasn’t quite right.

It started badly, as I was went with the knowledge that the program had been recently altered (drastically altered in fact) from what was originally advertised (when the CULC programme was released the concert was initially billed as featuring Mozart’s Symphony No.29 and the Strauss’s Oboe Concerto). Instead, what was actually performed was the infinitely less inspiring Serenade for 13 Winds, “Gran Partita” by Mozart.

What added insult to injury were the indications that the originally listed Oboe Concerto would have gone down a storm, judging by the skill principal oboist Will Ball demonstrated in the Partita. Ball provided most of the musical highlights of the concert, with his clear, pure tone proving as effective in the tender injections of the adagio as in the dexterous passages of the finale. It often felt as though it was his piquant yet warm sound that steered the music into new areas, and it was often his instrument that initiated the deft interplay that then echoed between the other parts.

Elsewhere both the technique and musicianship of the thirteen players on stage were equally faultless, each of their individual sounds were glorious, warm and perfectly controlled and their sense of ensemble was so strong that the players even managed to withdraw their instruments in unison after a mobile phone almost interrupted proceedings before the concert had even begun. When the Nokia tune wasn’t acting as their baton, the ensemble maintained togetherness throughout, and save for a few fluffed horn entries, the continuous flow of dulcet melody was left to simmer without disturbance.

Given this synchrony, you could have been forgiven for questioning the conductor’s role. Yet Will Cole, whose conducting style was as subtle as Mozart’s music itself, proved indispensable to the outfit. He gave a cerebral account of the Mozart – no fireworks here, but he managed to contain the ensemble’s excitement until he felt it necessary to release the music’s pent-up energy, which translated into some thrilling moments, especially in the final movement.

Having said all this, I find myself questioning why it was then that I was so unaffected by the performance. My indifferent reaction was certainly not the result of incompetence on the performers’ parts, but the fact the music, although unquestionably well-formed and elegant, never really ignited. Instead it was like Champagne – it fizzed and sparkled but didn’t really pack the punch that I was so desperately craving. Serve me up the Sambuca shots next time, CUMS.