The magic of Mozart is a slight misnomer, as the concert also comprised two other pieces by different composers, but the main ingredients of this delightful concert were Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major and his Piano Concerto in C Major. The concert opened with The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel, a rousing piece of music to start the evening. The piece is the first part of the oratorio Solomon: the full oratorio is rarely heard, but this sinfonia has always remained popular. The Oxford Proms Orchestra played it at the lively pace it deserves, the different instruments weaving in and out of each other.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major was the composer’s last completed major work, and has proved one of his most popular. In the first movement, allegro, the orchestra opens with the clarinet emerging from the other instruments, as if the clarinet is taking its lead from the rest of the orchestra. In the second, stunningly beautiful, movement, the roles are reversed with the clarinet leading and the orchestra following. The concerto is completed with the third movement, the Rondo, where the clarinet and the orchestra take it in turns to lead, working together in a playful way. Lucy Downer gave us a masterclass in this lovely instrument, demonstrating its flexibility and variety of expression.
After the interval we were treated to a new, short, but elegant piece, composed by a member of the orchestra, Tim Perkins. The piece was inspired by a visit to a bone chapel in Portugal, hence the name Capela Dos Ossos: it has apparently undergone many transformations, but is now a piece for strings, clarinet and bass clarinet. This time Lucy Downer played the bass clarinet, with Catriona Scott on the clarinet.
The last part of the concert was Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major. The second movement was made famous by the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan, which is perhaps unfortunate, as the film is about sadness and tragedy, whereas the Mozart’s music is gentle and lyrical but not necessarily sad. The full orchestra played this concerto, with Maki Sekiya on the piano. Maki Sekiya won her first international competition aged 13, and gave her first public performance in this country at the age of 16. To watch those delicate fingers fly over the piano, you would think she was barely touching the notes, and yet we were treated to a performance of extraordinary vitality. She then gave a brief encore before introducing two young boy singers, whom she accompanied while they sang Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels), written by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century with music by Cesar Franck. This was an unexpected but delightful way to finish a beautiful evening.The 29-piece Oxford Proms Orchestra is comprised of professional and semi-professional musicians who come together in Oxford for two concerts a year. I would highly recommend catching them next time they are in town.