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Mozart – 250th Anniversary 2006


The Barbican Hall 27 January 2006


Symphony No 41, 'Jupiter'; Mass in C minor

Laura Aikin & Emma Bell sopranos
Jeremy Ovenden tenor
James Rutherford bass

BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/David Robertson 


St John's, Smith Square 31 January

Overture La clemenza di Tito K621
Piano Concerto No.27 in B b K595
Requiem K626

The Hanover Band and Chorus/ Paul Brough
Lydia Teuscher & Caitlin Hulcup soprano
Andrew Staples tenor
Tim Mirfin bass

The BBC's main concert on the actual date of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth took place before a capacity audience at The Barbican. The Jupiter Symphony was vigorously played by the orchestra under the energetic young conductor, David Robertson. This work gives promise of even greater music to come – a promise tragically unfulfilled. The wonderful final movement made a particularly vivid impression.

The C Minor Mass, conceived on a grand scale, calling for trumpets and trombones, seems not to have been commissioned for a specific occasion, rather a case of Mozart wishing to spread his wings after his departure from Salzburg. It was was never finished, ending with the Benedictus. The stay in Vienna gave Mozart access to works by Bach and Handel, and their influence is apparent in the elaborate chorus parts. The flavour of this music is not devotional but rather an act of homage to a musical tradition.  

The American soprano, Laura Aikin, displayed a pure, ethereal voice in the opening Kyrie. She later voiced the hesitant, awe-struck coloratura of Et Incarnatus Est , seemingly reluctant to articulate this divine mystery. Her soprano colleague, Emma Bell, provided a contrast, with her forceful, declamatory style, a Dorabella to match Fiordiligi. The BBC Chorus was prominent throughout and all four soloists combined to good effect in the final Benedictus. The orchestra conveyed the sense of occasion and the efforts of all participants resulted in a worthy celebration of Mozart to start the year

The Hanover Band began their concert in a chilly St John's with a lively Clemenza di Tito overture. For the Piano Concerto No 27, Mozart's last, Nikolai Demidenko had a genuine Viennese Renschker pianoforte provided by Finchcocks. This vintage instrument enabled the pianist to produce some sparkling, crystal clear tones which blended perfectly with the period instrument orchestral accompaniment, somewhat reduced in scale,and lacking trumpets and drums. The last movement, with its jaunty dance rhythm, sounded an echo of the song Koo, Lieber Mai composed to the same tune.

The Hanover Band Chorus, of about 20 voices, made a considerable impact with its enthusiastic and dramatic approach. and the four solo singers, for the Mozart Requiem . The former, constituted to the demands of the score. The young soloists made an impact with their pure, unforced lyricism, none more so than the bass, Tim Mirfin, who sang his part in a dark, dignified tone that suited the occasion perfectly. The woodwinds created a suitably melancholy effect in the first few bars and a proper sense of solemnity persisted for the whole work.  

Paul Brough kept his forces together and ensured a proper balance between voices and orchestra, never allowing one section to dominate another. This performance, by well rehearsed orchestral and choral forces, must be considered as being as near to realising Mozart's intentions as any possible. On the evidence of this concert the Hanover Band deserves its reputation for excellence in music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Do we need all these anniversaries? They tap an inherent need to give form and meaning to life, but commercialism has taken over, and found anniversaries a lucrative handle for promoting concert series, and a convenient one for reviving interest in neglected composers. But for one as universally popular as Mozart (only recently celebrated as thoroughly as one could wish for the 200th anniversary of his death in 1991) there are real risks of over-saturation. Another eleven months of Mozart celebrations is a daunting prospect. – do we need his music broadcast night and day, as provided by the BBC for Bach to general approval. For some that experience was like having turkey and plum pudding on each of the twelve days of Christmas – Radio 3's controller has recognised that you can have too much of a good thing - even Mozart! Art cannot flourish on masterpieces alone; one needs time to breathe between moments of sublime inspiration if we are not to suffer ‘indigestion'. Mozart's repertoire must be handled selectively to achieve maximum impact.   S Jenkins


St Bride's Church, Fleet Street 1 February

Piano Trios in C major K548 & E Major K542
Rondo in A Minor K511

Concerto Cristofori
Sharona Joshua fortepiano
Matthew Truscott violin
Catherine Rimer cello

Three members of Concerto Cristofori filled St Bride's completely for their Mozart tribute, with a mainly elderly audience of some 300 people.

Sharona Joshua's Schantz/Barlow fortepiano was really too quiet for this large space. In the trios she was dominated by the violin, even in passages where Matthew Truscott's role was to support the far more interesting piano part. His instrument was a little rough in tone and tuning was not always impeccable. Catherine Rimer gave tactful support and had but few moments to shine; Mozart's piano trios are not his most engaging chamber works and one of them might have been better than two?

The pianist apologised for her wood framed instrument having gone out of tune at the top, because of its sensitivity to temperature changes. The solo andante-rondo is one of Mozart's most beautiful pieces, but it was undercharacterised on this occasion and there were some moments of untidiness in execution or clean responsiveness from the keys.

There was little sign of complaint from the majority of the audience, who appeared well satisfied with the opportunity to hear instruments of Mozart's own time. Matching music to venue is important in making for a successful concert. Sight lines at St Bride's are poor from inside the pews and, with such success in bringing in listeners to their free lunchtime concerts, they might think about installing a platform there? PGW



© Peter Grahame Woolf