Stephanie Childress, Isata Kanneh-Mason and London Mozart Players at Cadogan Hall

With no programme there’s a risk of not quite knowing what it is you’re listening to. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially for those of us who consider curiosity to be the only requirement for the live music experience. Not knowing is A Boon.

Not knowing can also throw up some surprises. For the first twenty minutes of the London Mozart Player’s Cadogan Hall gig I thought I was listening to a Mozart overture from an opera I couldn’t quite remember the title of. Hence why I applauded heartily after the final chord, only to discover a few seconds later that the applause had petered out and the work was unfinished.

Something in the music that followed triggered a thought: that sounds like Beethoven, doesn’t it?

The confusion says something about early Beethoven symphonies I had forgotten about. Beethoven’s symphony number two has hints of Mozart, so too hints of the complexities in Beethoven’s writing that perhaps are more obvious in his later symphonies.

Conductor Stephanie Childress asserted herself on the podium with elegance, poise and panache. I was transfixed by the movement of her arms – motion from her shoulder all the way to the tips of her fingers. There was a sense of flow and grace in every move. Precise direction in a clear baton technique drew out some remarkable ensemble work and arresting textures and articulation.

Isata Kanneh-Mason played with verve throughout the demanding Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1, creating a tender melodic line in the second movement. Her fluid technique came the fore in the bravura third movement packed full of decorative elements that make the soloist reach for both ends of the keyboard. Isata was engaged but unfazed – a performance she fashioned from the instrument in front of her.

On a logistical front (these are unusual times), hats off to Cadogan Hall staff for being the venue who have managed to create as near normal a concert experience (including front of house) as I recall pre-pandemic. The acoustic isn’t quite so generous as St John’s Smith Square, nor as clear as Fairfields in Croydon, nor as supportive as Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

Squeezing classical out of classical music

In the mad dash to make classical music more ‘appealing’ to more people, the representation of youth is a priority for record labels. But is that a good thing?

I attended the Decca Summer Drinks ‘thing’ last night in Central London. I appreciated the invite. I appreciated the wine. I appreciated the balloons. I was less keen on the lack of AC in the main performance ‘space’. But you know, free wine.

We heard from Isata Kanneh-Mason on piano (playing Clara Schumann) and from Milos on Gee-Tar with accompanying septet previewing his new release featuring arrangements of Sound of Silence and a Portishead track.

Yes. That’s right. Simon and Garfunkel and Portishead.

This in amongst a couple of promos featuring Decca Classics’ illustrious past.

It was a confused affair. At least I was confused. On the one hand Decca are keen to celebrate their archive. On the other hand they’re even more keen to underline their commitment to diversity, youth, and accessibility.

In doing so, I wonder whether someone at Universal Music/Decca HQ is deliberately or inadvertently overlooking a truism.

Decca’s present-day lead signings are undoubtedly talented but painfully young. As an audience member (and according to some an ‘influential commentator on the subject’) I don’t buy in to what that new talent offers. That’s not to say I don’t believe that Isata, Sheku, and Jess Gilliam will be powerful forces in the classical music world. Rather, it’s that I recognise that they are at the beginning of their careers. And yet it sometimes feels (as it did last night) as though those artists are at the pinnacle of them.

And as lovely as Milos absolutely is, and as striking as his snazzy shirt was last night, I do think releasing an album of pop songs arranged for septet and acoustic guitar basically puts him on the same level as Mantovani.

There’s nothing wrong with anyone who wants to listen to that, of course. Any rabble rousers out there who get a whiff of snobbery or elitism on my part can put down their arms.

The irony is that hearing Milos playing Portishead last night, prompted me to head back to the considerably more satisfying original.

It just got me thinking. Is this what Milos had hoped for when he studied his art? And is this what record industry executives really think people like me actually want?

Or is it worse than that?

Is it the case that record industry execs don’t actually care what I and people like me think?