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Mozart & Benjamin Wallfisch

Mozart – Thamos, King of Egypt

Overture, The Magic Flute; Eine kleine Nachtmusik

Benjamin Wallfisch – Escape Velocityworld premiere

Fflur Wyn – soprano

Christine Cairns mezzo-soprano

Christopher Lemmings - tenor

Stephen Loges – bass

OSJ Voices

Orchestra of St John's/John Lubbock/Benjamin Wallfisch (pictured)

 Prom PSM4 at Cadogan Hall


Tobias von Gebler's play Thamos, King of Egypt was first performed in 1774 with relatively simple incidental music.

Such was the popularity of the play that it progressed from Bratislava to Vienna and Salzburg and Mozart expanded the music accordingly, with the addition of large scale choruses and solos.


The story runs on very similar lines to The Magic Flute, a pair of young lovers proving themselves against mysterious dark enemies, a deposed king disguised as a High Priest, and of course the Egyptian setting and accompanying symbolism. Similar parallels abound in the music, but the piece is no shadowy precursor of a masterpiece to come, it has a real grandeur and substance of its own, as well as some very beguiling melodies.


The score builds to a high point in the Allegro which follows Act 4. The opposing forces of good and evil have come face to face and the revelation of the rightful king closes the act in general confusion, exactly mirrored in Mozart's chromaticism and ferocious offbeat accents. The villains are annihilated by a thunderbolt and rightful order is restored in the magnificent closing choruses.


Four good soloists, combined with the enthusiastic singing of the OSJ Singers and an orchestra right on their toes made this performance a memorable occasion. We must all have heard a good deal of Mozart in this anniversary year and perhaps begin to feel we have reached saturation point, so it is full marks to the Proms to come up with an unjustly neglected work in a really exciting performance.


The programme had started with the overture to The Magic Flute , putting the audience in the right mind for Thamos , and also included the well known Serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik which, particularly in its first movement, contains other operatic echoes, this time to Don Giovanni which Mozart was working on at the same time.


As if all this were not enough, there was the excitement of a world premiere when Benjamin Wallfisch took the podium to present his new piece Escape Velocity. The work has a scientific basis: “It is possible to propel an object upwards with such an extreme initial velocity that as it rises gravity cannot slow it enough to reverse its ascent and the object completely escapes the Earth's gravitational pull”.


In this case the “object” is the violin of orchestra leader Jan Schmoll, and after a relatively tranquil start the energy builds in a central chorale leading to the propulsion of the violin into orbit. It's a breathtaking piece for orchestra and audience alike, and certainly one where those in the hall were at an advantage of seeing as well as hearing. The percussion instruments include crash cymbals, a whip, waterphone and watergong, and in the concluding section the string section are alive with activity – playing “extremely fast random pitches, gradually moving from the lowest to highest range of the instrument”. Wow!


Serena Fenwick


Hear this concert on BBCR3 Listen Again - advance replay by 15 mins to hear Escape Velocity