With the Bierfest 2017's drinking songs, leather shorts and beer mugs the size of bazookas dominating its west end, and W.A. Mozart serenading its east end, the Broad St strolling and paying public was spoiled for German cultural choice on Saturday evening. The numbers game was won hands down by the Bierfest since attendance at the Oxford Proms' Summer Serenade Sheldonian concert was surprisingly thin in the upper gallery, given the attractive programme. In the 1st movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik conductor Christopher Redgate injected a touch of panache into proceedings by virtue of his bright scarlet shirt and expansive gestures towards his 22-strong orchestra, arms often outstretched to their very limit in the manner of a traffic cop on Potzdamer Platz in Berlin. One of the violins was so carried away by the occasion that at the end of the piece he began again to play when all around him was silence!
The all-Mozart programme was now interrupted by a Concerto for the Howarth-Redgate oboe and strings, written by Tim Perkins, composer and a viola player in the ensemble. I remember the premiere of his Dithyramb for Clarinet, Viola, Strings and Percussion from August last year. As with that piece, here I was put in mind of the music of contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, especially his Symphony No. 1. Mr Redgate was playing his own 21st century oboe, which to my non-technical ear enabled him to encroach in the upper register into clarinet and soprano saxophone territory. A concerto in four sections, it offered a serious challenge of digital dexterity and breathing control in its 3rd section; at first for solo part alone, then in combination with insistent strings. We enjoyed the novelty of Mr Redgate tapping his foot audibly on the podium, with the sound amplified by the four cellists as they followed suit. The atonal approach was even varied by a hint of melody in the finale. Nice work from both composer and oboist.
The Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra in E flat is, in my view, one of Mozart's greatest chefs d'oeuvre; it wholly escapes me quite how a 23 year old managed to compose a piece bursting with such musical invention and which explores emotional depths so searchingly. The ensemble was now joined by two oboes and two horns. The opening bars lacked a bit of attack, but things settled down as the ritornello slowly unfolded. The moment when the solo violin and viola gently emerge from the trilled thrusts of the strings is always a delightful one, but although Emma Sheppard's viola was perfectly fine, there was a harsh edge to Edmund Jones' violin work that I found a trifle disconcerting. In the 'adagio' sonorous cellos and brief interventions by the horns dovetailed seamlessly with the strings. In the 'rondo' the soloists alternated rather than joined, trading ripostes over buzzing accompaniments.
After the interval, Mr Redgate's red shirt had been exchanged for a turquoise one, and, keeping it in the family, Celia Redgate was the solo flautist, playing a cocus wood instrument for Concerto for Flute and Orchestra No 2 in D major. Cocus wood comes from the Jamaican rain tree, a dense tropical hardwood with excellent musical properties traditionally used for the making of flutes, though all but unobtainable today. The soloist's first entry is quite dramatic, and here especially so owing to the spirited quality of Ms Redgate's playing, and it was interesting to see how, even given the opening movement's bold 'allegro' marking, she gave a pleasing impression of having time to spare. Unrushed and smooth again in the 'adagio', she eased through a third little cadenza in the 'rondo', delivering the catchy tune with brio.
We concluded with Symphony No 29 in A major, in four movements and the work of a teenager. Overall it has a style galant feel to it; gracious, elegant and compact certainly, but also a little earnest. Mr Redgate took great care to pinpoint just the right tempos, and in the lilting slow movement the lower strings, the most impressive element of the orchestra all evening, I thought, played nobly, particularly at the end of the 'andante'.
As we stepped out into the breezy evening, though Mozart was now stilled for this day, the other end of Broad St was throbbing on. By this time the oom-pah-pah had given way to something a bit more garage and techno.