St John’s Smith Square 2016/17: London Mozart Players explore Mozart Piano Concerto 20

I’m making more of a conscious effort to visit St John’s Smith Square this season. That’s partly because of making the podcast earlier this year in which a number of the performers featured.

The former church attaches itself to new unsuspecting audience members with a lack of pretension and an infectious spirit of community. The lack of raked seating puts everyone psychologically on the same level. That’s really important.

It has some charming eccentricities to it too. Top tip, if you’re collecting your ticket from the box office, avoid the counter-intuitive route down into the crypt in order to go up into the concert hall. Just head outside and walk around the building to the one of the side entrances – much quicker. (Avoid this advice if you need a drink, obviously).

The latest SJSS experience was the start of the London Mozart Player’s third ‘Mozart Explored’ series.

I normally wince at the thought of a conductor standing up and talking about the work him and his orchestra are about to play. That might say something about my lack of patience or, as I prefer to think, that the times I’ve experienced these kind of annotated concerts, the conductor/soloist hasn’t been quite so good at talking.

Not so with conductor and pianist Howard Shelley who combines enthusiasm with an easy charm to impart just the right amount of illustrated information about the work you’re about to hear without any assumption about the (potential lack of) knowledge of the audience.

Fifteen minutes to talk about the work, uncovering elements of the work you may not have heard before, and introducing other bits you have overlooked through repeat listens. Shelley isn’t so much deepening your understanding of a work, just encouraging you to pull your chair in a little closer and listen more intently. The annotations are punctual and efficient and, when the band play to illustrate what he’s talking about, you get a taster of the treats to follow. That just makes you even more hungry for the complete performance.

The London Mozart Players play with precision, warmth and power that belies their modest forces. A tidy lunch-break package with a powerful punch. A delightful discovery.

London Mozart Players next appear at St John’s Smith Square on Wednesday 26 October.

They’re performing Brahms’ German Requiem and Strauss’ Four Last Songs with the Crouch End Festival Chorus at the Barbican (Gramophone winner Benjamin Appl appears with them) on Friday 21 October at the Barbican.

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