Mozart’s Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

Conductor and Artistic Director of Classical Opera, Ian Page, suggested in
his introductory programme note that the concert programme would give us
the opportunity to assess ‘the importance of the composer’s exposure to
different cultures, styles and nationalities’. Perhaps that was indeed the
case: certainly, Mozart was influenced by an unprecedented array of
cosmopolitan cultural influences that undoubtedly made their mark and left
an impression on the young musician-composer. But, it seemed to me that,
rather than elucidate ‘national’ stylistic footprints in which Mozart may
have placed his young toes, what this programme really revealed was how
quickly and how strikingly the young Mozart found his own stylistic boots:
indeed, Page remarks that the programme illustrates ‘how Mozart’s style and
“voice” evolved as he grew and developed’.

Classical Opera Associate Artist Louise Alder Europe-hopped between The
Hague, Munich and Prague for the three concert/opera arias that she
performed, starting with ‘O temerario Arbace … Per quell paterno amplesso’
K79, which Mozart composed while holed up in The Hague in 1765.

The ‘trick’ that one needs to pull off with Mozart is to make music that is
incredibly difficult to sing sound effortless: one requires confidence, a
sound technique and musical presence in equal measure, and Alder possesses
all three, in abundance. One thing that her three arias demanded of Alder
was that she prove able to establish ‘character’ and dramatic/emotional
situation in an instant, without prior context, and while she didn’t
perhaps entirely convince she made an admirable effort to help us
appreciate the honourable self-sacrifice of Arbaces, who has been wrongly
imprisoned and sentenced to death for a crime committed by his father
Artabanes. The accompanied recitative was notable for the expressive string
playing and woodwind colourings, as well as the richness of Alder’s own
lower register, as Arbaces begged his father’s forgiveness (don’t ask
why!). Alder needed to make some swift adjustments at the start of the aria
proper, as the texture is quite thick and the acoustic in the
capacity-audience Wigmore Hall was presumably rather different to that
experienced during rehearsal. But, she showed both agility and
long-breathed lyricism in embodying both son and father and her vocal
demeanour was relaxed and eloquent throughout.

Next came some daughter-father ‘issues’ in the form of Ilia’s ‘Se
il padre perdei’ form Idomeneo. Here, Alder’s vocal sheen evinced
a lovely sincerity and the da capo form was used dramatically to reinforce
the emotions and commitments of Ilia to her new, adopted land. The
contribution of the woodwind and horns was a noteworthy strength of the
expressive idiom: there was some lovely flute, bassoon and horn playing,
complementing and interacting with the voice.

Alder’s final contribution to the programme was the concert aria ‘Bella mia
fiamma … Resta, o cara’, which Mozart wrote for the soprano Josepha Duschek
– whose relationship with Mozart is reputed to have been rather risquÈ. The
story goes that Duschek demanded that Mozart compose an aria for her before
he left Prague (following the acclaimed presentation of Don Giovanni in the city), his riposte being that he would do so
as long as she could sing the said aria accurately at first sight. Well,
the chromatic passages in ‘Resta, o cara’ are both startling and musically
powerful, and Alder nailed every nuanced twist and turn head on, while
never neglecting expressive lyricism.

The solo contributions in the remainder of this Mozartists’ programme were
no less impressive. Flautist Katy Bircher and harpist Oliver Wass reminded
us that there is rather more to Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp than
its Classic FM stature might suggest, Bircher’s pure lyricism being
complemented by Wass’s rather more mercurial spontaneity; Wass performed
from memory and his hands fluttered with energetic creativity and bite. The
Mozartists were lean and light throughout, though at times the tempo
flagged and needed to be ‘picked up’ in the opening Allegro. The
beauty of the Andantino spoke for itself, though, again, Wass was
prone to spice up the purity with seductive ripples and expressive rubatos
– to this listener’s delight.

Gavin Edwards’ performance of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.4 made light work
of the technical challenges – surely this music isn’t supposed to sound so
‘easy’, despite Mozart’s helpful writing for the natural horn? Edwards
manipulated colour, timbre, dynamics, all the while playing with spot-on
intonation – and absolutely no ‘fuss’. The cadenza of the first movement ( Allegro maestoso) had moments of beautiful lyricism, and harmonic
nuances were subtly emphasised. Edwards showed that he could both reach to
the far reaches of the instrument’s range, and ornament with style. Tempi
were not always entirely settled – the second movement Romance
seemed to change gear several times – but the final Rondo: Allegro vivace was deliciously light and joyful, romping
home with vivacity.

Framing the programme were two early Mozart symphonies: the first and the
tenth. In the former one could hear the 7-year-old Mozart exploring dynamic
contrasts and securing his harmonic progressions. There were some
hyperbolic flourishes – childish “Look at me!”s – but one could indulge
such outbursts. Page whipped through the score lightly (though at times the
horns were rather exposed – at the start of the performance, they
presumably hadn’t had time to find their ‘groove’), and the same swiftness
characterised the Symphony No.10 in G major, in which the Andante
followed segue from the rhetoric-heavy opening Allegro – all
punchy horns and racing strings – and the concluding Allegro made
a virtue of brevity.

I doubt I shall hear these two symphonies in the same programme – if at all
– ever again. As always, Page and The Mozartists introduced us to some
musical byways that we will be glad to have travelled.

Claire Seymour

The Mozartists, Ian Page (conductor), Louise Alder (soprano), Katy Bircher
(flute), Oliver Wass (harp), Gavin Edwards (horn)

Mozart: Symphony No.1 in E flat K16, ‘O temerario Arbace … Per quel paterno
amplesso’ K79, Concerto in C for flute and harp K299, ‘Se il padre perdei’
from Idomeneo K366, Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat K495, ‘Bella mia
fiamma … Resta, o cara’ K528, Symphony No.10 in G K74

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 8th July 2019.

product_title=Mozart’s TravelsThe Mozartists/Ian Page at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Louise Alder

Photo credit: Gerard Collett