Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

That might seem odd, given that he proved himself very much a choral rather
than an orchestral conductor, but the concerto came off best precisely
because control of its direction was for the most part in the more than
capable hands of pianist, Nico de Villiers. There was no doubt whatsoever
that he was the real thing, offering playing both pellucid and, where
required, weighty (making me keen to hear his Brahms). Insofar as he was
able to lead the London Mozart Players, he did, with all the give and take
of chamber music. The shaping of the first-movement cadenza offered a
conspectus of that movement, even the work, as a whole. A lovely blend of
‘Classical’ and ‘Romantic’ was similarly achieved in the Intermezzo, also
benefiting from fine cello playing (though a few more cellos and indeed
strings more generally would have been welcome). Finely sprung rhythms
characterised a finale both buoyant and directed, the LMP on noticeably
better form throughout the concerto than in the choral works by Brahms and
Mozart that surrounded it.

First of those was Brahms’s Schicksalslied, or ‘Song of Destiny’.
Again, one would ideally have had a larger orchestra, not least given the
presence of two very large choruses, the Hackney Singers and Lewisham
Choral Society, but there were doubtless financial reasons for that.
Ludford-Thomas certainly handled those gigantic, Gurrelieder-like
choral forces well here. They offered a pleasing sound and excellent
diction, clearly well trained, with convincing dynamic contrasts. The final
stanza proved hard driven, though, and the orchestra was largely left to
fend for itself – sometimes with more convincing results than others.

The second half of the concert was given over to Mozart’s Mass in C minor.
The ‘Kyrie’ offered a largely promising start. Swift, if not unreasonably
so, and well balanced – again, given the mismatch in size between choruses
and orchestras – it once again offered fine choral singing, and a nice
change to hear so many voices in Mozart. Alas, soprano, Elin Manahan Thomas
proved parted here and elsewhere, also contributing decidedly peculiar
Latin pronunciation and ornamentation. If there was nothing especially
insightful to Ludford-Thomas’s conducting of the ‘Gloria’, it enabled the
chorus, which was a good part of the point of such a concert. Helen
Meyerhoff, in its ‘Laudamus’ section proved a more convincing soloist, a
bizarrely fast tempo notwithstanding. Subsequent sections sounded more like
rushes to the bus stop than moments of Rococo wonder and suffered from poor
blend between soloists. By the time we reached the ‘Qui tollis’, choral
intonation left a good deal to be desired. However, the teenor, Peter
Davoren had some good moments.

Maybe the novelty of such large choral forces had simply worn off, or maybe
they were growing tired: either way, the ‘Credo’ seemed more affected by
roughness around the edges than had been the case earlier. The ‘Et
incarnatus est’, which should be one of the most wondrous movements in all
Mozart’s sacred music, suffered from uneven singing, plain strings, and
serious disjuncture in pitch between the two; only the woodwind redeemed
it. A plain ‘Sanctus’, lumbering ‘Osanna’ and perfunctory ‘Benedictus’ made
for dispiriting listening.

Mark Berry

Brahms: Schicksalslied Op.54; Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor
Op.54; Mozart: Mass in C minor KV 427/417a.

Nico de Villiers (piano), Elin Manahan Thomas, Helen Meyerhoff (sopranos),
Peter Davoren (tenor), Philip Tebb (bass), Hackney Singers, Lewisham Choral
Society, London Mozart Players/Dan Ludford-Thomas (conductor).

Royal Festival Hall, London, Friday 22 March 2019.

product_title=Lewisham Choral Society and the Hackney Singers at the Royal Festival Hall
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Dan Ludford-Thomas