It was born the Goldsborough Orchestra in 1948 and re-christened the English Chamber Orchestra in 1960; the finest hours of its distinguished existence were the first two decades when it was practically the house orchestra of the Aldeburgh Festival, playing often with Benjamin Britten as conductor. In those early days Raymond Leppard did memorable work with the orchestra concert at on what Hardy used to call ‘the ancient stave’ but he followed his love to America, taking his fireplace and his talent with him. The good news is that he is returning to conduct the orchestra on May 15th in London’s newest and pleasant hall, the Cadogan, near Sloane Square. Later Daniel Barenboim made it his own for many concerts including the piano concertos of Mozart recorded twice, and later still the ENO played often with Murray Parahia at the piano, another set of the Mozart concertos, repeated with Mitsuko Uchida at the keyboard.
It was in the Cadogan on December 5 that the ECO played a concert in memory of Sir Charles Mackerras who had often worked with the orchestra at many fine concerts. Because of his predilection for Czech music, the first half included two Czech works and the concert was further connected with CM in that his nephew, Alexander Briger, also Australian born, was on the podium. The evening began with the Czech Suite of Dvorak, a pleasant enough piece but one without much fire in its belly nor the composer’s most lyrical song in its heart. After which we hear a flute Concerto by Josef Myslivicek (1737 – 1781) who was a friend of Mozart’s and was all the rage during his lifetime in Italy, 26 opera’s to his name and a composer much fêted and honoured. This concert was a work in D major and it was thought to be its British premiere. And maybe it’s ultimate, for, agreeable though it was, it could surely have been by anyone of a hundred eighteenth century composers, a collection of formulae of the time. (The poor chap lost his nose and died young of syphilis).
The soloist was Australian born, Argentinean Ana de la Vega and she played well, although not without some moments of peccable intonation.
After the interval the Belgian pianist, Olivier Roberti, gave a thoroughly note and style perfect performance of Mozart’s K. 467 the masterly C major Piano Certo of Mozart, a performance which belised his deadpan, professional looks. Maybe a Curzon or Haskil would have lifted the performance onto a higher plane but this was quite acceptable. So was Briger’s conducting of the final item, Mozart’s wonderful Prague Symphony, a work as perfect as the opera that he wrote for that city. Who was it said that “the best things in life are Shakespeare, the sea and Don Giovanni”?