Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

This ambitious ‘journey’ — which will not conclude until 2041! –
began with an exploration of works composed in 1765, a year which was fortunate
to offer gems such as J.C. Bach’s Adriano in Siria (Adriano in
). 1766 apparently delivers slimmer pickings. It was a little
disconcerting that Artistic Director Ian Page’s ‘Welcome’ in
the programme read like an ‘apologia’ — ‘In many ways, and
for no discernible reason, 1766 seems to have been a less rich musical year
than those either side of it.’ — and was accompanied by an apparent
vindication of the programme, ‘we are not pretending that every work that
we perform within MOZART 250 is a masterpiece’. But,
there was much of interest in this varied programme, and the presence of names
such as Vanhal, Beck and Guglielmi in the list of works to be performed added
an intriguing ‘rarity’ factor too.

It was Mozart’s concert arias which, despite the composer’s
youth — and that fact that 1766 was an itinerant year which saw him dashing
between the cities of Europe with his sister Nannerl, to show off their
prodigious talents — impressed most. Soprano Louise Adler, a current Associate
Artist with the company, combined crystalline definition of the phrases with a
warm, appealing tone in ‘Per piet‡, bell’ idol mio’ (For
pity’s sake, my beloved’), in which the two oboes (James Eastaway
and Rachel Chaplin) engaged in a tender dialogue with the voice, enriching the
colour palette. The sentiments of the final line, ‘Abbastanza il ciel mi
fa’ — as Artaxerxes begs not to be charged with ingratitude, for Heaven
has left him ‘unhappy and unlucky enough’ — were heightened by the
superb contribution of horn player Roger Montgomery, in perfect unison with the
voice, while the tight trills of the oboes and first violins demonstrated the
young Mozart’s sharp eye for meaningful detail.

‘O temerario Arbace … Per quel paterno amplesso’ (Oh reckless
Arbace … With that paternal embrace’ followed, in which the striking
harmonic twists and instrumental textures of the accompanied recitative (the
first surviving example by Mozart) confirmed the composer’s innate
dramatic instinct. The strength of characterisation was enhanced by
Alder’s confident delivery, distinctly off-the-score. The soloist’s
rapid cascades, which launch unexpectedly, and rather paradoxically, with the
line ‘Placami l’idol mio’ (console my beloved), were fluid
and bright, conveying urgency; and, while I felt that Alder held back at times,
the delicacy of her high pianissimos was impressive. I wasn’t convincing
by Page’s tempo, though; overly brisk, it denied us the subtle grace of
Mozart’s triple-time, lilting phrases.

We had to wait for the final bars of ‘Sento, ahimË, nË so ch
sia’ (I feel, alas, and I don’t know what it is) from Pietro
Alessandro Guglielmi’s opera buffa, Lo spirito di contradizione
– which was premiËred in Venice in 1766 — for Alder to unleash the full power
of her soprano; she fittingly evoking the fevered desperation the Countess
Flaminia who, deceived by the dastardly Don Cesarino, vows to remain single and
laments her fate: ‘Meschinella gi‡ deliro,/ Il respire pi˘ non ho’
(now I am a delirious wretch, and I can breathe no more). Alder varied the
vocal colours effectively, accompanied by the palpitating pizzicatos of cello
and first violin — her ‘trembling heart’. J. C. Bach’s
pleasure garden song, ‘Ah, why shou’d love with tyrant sway’,
was delivered with simple directness, a smooth line and nimbleness; and the
interplay between voice and strings in the closing phrase was charming.

Tenor Benjamin Hulett, a former Associate Artist, also presented a Mozart
concert aria, but though he made a valiant attempt to suggest earnestness and
nobility, he could not make a convincing case for the repetitive, unctuous
eulogising of the Licenza (homage) ‘Or chi il dover m’astringe …
Tal e cotanti sono’ (Now that day obliges me … So great and so many),
which Mozart composed to mark Sigismund von Schrattenbach’s ascension to
the Archbishopric of Salzburg. Haydn was represented by the ‘Et
incarnates est’ from his Missa Cellensis, which Hulett sang with
poise and profundity; he was relaxed in the higher-lying passages but also
found a surprising gravity and intensity in the lower register. The long lines
of the second verse showcased his confident breathing, while the chromatic
inflections of the third verse, and its large leaps, demonstrated
Hulett’s technical assurance and good intonation.

Most interesting of Hulett’s contributions was NiccolÚ Jomelli’s
‘De’ miei desire ormai … Che faro?’ (Now I see myself … What
shall I do?’) from the composer’s opera Il Vologeso. The
complexity and inventiveness of the upper strings during the recitative
suggested a composer striving to use all the resources at his disposal to
capture an evolving emotional discourse — as the Roman General Lucio Vero
recognises the misguidedness of his attempts to force the defiant Berenice,
wife of the defeated Parthian King, to love him. Hulett wove the
General’s distressed fragments into convincing extended phrases, and this
performance made one eager for the opportunity to hear Classical Opera’s
performance of the entire opera at the Cadogan Hall in April ( Il

Instrument works performed by the twenty-piece Orchestra of Classical Opera
completed the programme. It was good to have the opportunity to hear Johann
Baptist Vanhal’s Symphony in G minor in which Page encouraged the players
to make the most of the dynamic and textural contrasts. The Adagio
placed Eastaway’s beautifully shaped solo above the
‘tick-tock’ pizzicato of the lower strings; in the Trio of the
third movement there were appealing melodic exchanges. Page worked hard to
create energy and vigour in the fast outer movements, but while the pianissimo
beginning of the Finale: Allegro pulsed excitedly, I’d have
liked Page to have determined consistently upon a two-in-a-bar pulse: his
intermittent reversions to four beats held things back. Similarly the horns
might have been even more unrestrained, to convey the exuberance of the
movement. The first movement of Franz Ignaz Beck’s Symphony in D was also
characterised by contrast: first rhetorical chords, then quiet descending
scales, which grew into increasingly busy counterpoint culminating in the
explosive entrance of the horns. But, overall the movement lacked lightness and
air, and I longed for Page to take a few more risks with tempo and

We had symphonies from Mozart, too, beginning with the Symphony in Bb No.5
in which there was not always a good balance between upper and lower voices,
the bass line occasionally overpowering. Here, as elsewhere, there was some
strong individual playing: horns were vibrant at the start, the strings’
trills were vivacious, and there was grace in the antiphonal motivic exchanges
between the first and second violins. Yet, there was often an unwelcome
weightiness, and the Andante was heavy and ponderous. Mozart’s
‘Old Lambach’ Symphony in G Major K.45a concluded the concert,
prefaced by Page’s inauspicious account of its premiere, at which the
composer’s father, Leopold, complained that the music and players were
equally dreadful! On this occasion, the performance was certainly not
lamentable; and Page did his best to draw forth the moments of musical
interest, though once more I felt that the results were worthy rather than
truly engaging.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Classical Opera: Ian Page — conductor, Louise Alder — soprano,
Benjamin Hulett — tenor, the Orchestra of Classical Opera.

Mozart: Symphony No.5 in B flat major K.22; NiccolÚ Jommelli:
‘’De’ miei desiri ormai … Che farÚ?’ from Il
; Mozart: ‘Per piet‡, bell’ idol mio’ K.78,
‘O temerario Arbace … Per quel paterno amplesso’ K.79; Johann
Baptist Vanhal: Symphony in G minor; Haydn: ‘Et incarnatus est’
from Missa Cellensis; Pietro Guglielmi: ‘Povera me! … Sento,
ahimË, nË so che sia’ from Lo spirito di contradizione; Franz
Ignaz Beck: Symphony in D major Op.4 No.1, I. Allegro maestoso; J. C.
Bach: ‘Ah, why should love with tyrant sway’; Mozart: ‘Or che
il dover … Tali e cotanti sono’, K.36 Symphony in G major K45a
(Lambach). Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 19th January

image_description=Mozart 250 [Courtesy of Classical Opera]
product_title=Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Mozart 250 [Courtesy of Classical Opera]