Wednesday, 30 January 2019

1769: A year in music

Saverio dall Rosa: Mozart aged 14 in January 1770
Saverio dall Rosa: Mozart aged 14 in January 1770
Mozart, Arne, Paisiello, Gluck CPE Bach, Haydn, Leopold Mozart; Chiara Skerath, James Newby, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Queen Elizabeth Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 January 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Ian Page's Mozart 250 project has reached tthe teenage Mozart, here performed alongside an intriguing selection of music by his contemporaries

It is 1769, and young Mozart turns into a teenager. Having written his first full-length opera (La finta semplice) the previous year, this year is a quieter time for composition with only three orchestral serenades. But in the wider world, there is plenty of music going on with works by Arne, Paisiello, Haydn, CPE Bach and Gluck.

This is the context for Ian Page and the Mozartists' 1769: a year in music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on Tuesday 29 September 2018 for the fifth year of their Mozart 250 project. The orchestra was joined by soprano Chiara Skerath and baritone James Newby to perform Mozart's Symphony from Cassation in G major K.63, two airs from Thomas Arne's An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare, Mozart's aria Cara, se le mie pene, arias from Pasiello's Don Chisciotte della Mancia, Haydn's Le pescatrici, CPE Bach's Die Israeliten in der Wuste and Gluck's Aristeo, the first movement of Leopold Mozart's Symphony in G major 'Neue Lambach' and Haydn's Symphony No. 48 in C major 'Maria Theresia'.

We started with the symphony which Mozart extracted from his Cassation in G major. A cassation was a type of serenade, and Mozart re-used four of the movements to create a symphony. First a crisp and perky 'Allegro' with prominent horn parts, then a lyrical 'Adagio' with a prominent solo violin part. This movement though seemed to almost outstay its welcome. The third movement minuet was brisk, with a trio played by a smaller concertante group, and finally a lively 'Allegro assai'. A very creditable piece, and quite a piece of work for a thirteen-year-old, but the music does not yet dig very deep.

Arne's An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare was a setting of a large-scale ode written by David Garrick to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in Stratford. In fact the celebrations were five years late (Shakespeare was actually born in 1564), and torrential rain dampened things somewhat. Arne's music does not survive in full, and we heard two airs in orchestrations by Ian Page. Chiara Skerath sang 'Soft flowing Avon', a delightfully lyrical piece which Skerath sang with great engagement, and then James Newby gave a vividly dramatic account of 'Tho' crime from death and torture fly'. This latter seems to have only a tangential relevance to Shakespeare!

Mozart's concert aria Cara, se le mie pene is a bit of a mystery as it survives only in a copyist's manuscript and we have no context for it. As sung by Chiara Skerath it proved to be very Italian in influence, elegant and charming with Skerath again showing a lovely degree of engagement with the music.

Paisiello was one of the major opera composers of the day and can be seen as an important precursor to Rossini.  His three-act comic opera Don Chisciotte delle Mancia was premiered in Naples in 1769. The libretto, by the Neapolitan poet Giovanni Battista Lorenzi, takes great liberties with the original novel. James Newby sang 'Venga pur, ma zitto zitto', an aria for Sancho Panza in which he is leading the blindfolded Quixote to what he promises to be a golden bed with Dulcinea in it. It was a delightfully characterful piece with hints of the Rossini comic operas to come.

The first half concluded with an aria from one of Haydn's major comic operas, Le pescatrici. Unfortunately this only survives in an incomplete form, so has not had the modern revival that it deserves. Mastriccio's aria 'Son vecchio, son furbo', sung by James Newby, was a striking and sophisticated piece with elements which reminded you that Mozart's opera arias did not come out of nowhere, and some delightful patter moments.

The second half opened with the first movement of a symphony by Mozart's father Leopold. This is one of a pair which Leopold gave to a monastery in Austria in 1769, and there has been disputation ever since about which of the two was written by the father and which by the son. The discovery of the original manuscript in 1982 confirmed the Symphony in G 'Neue Lambach' as being by Leopold. The opening 'Allegro' was a brisk, well-made and attractive piece, not unlike the music of Leopold's son at the time, and also without the sense of plumbing greater depths which Mozart would bring to his mature music.

Born in 1714, CPE Bach was very much one of the older generation. He moved to Hamburg in 1768 and his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wuste was one of his first large-scale pieces for the city. About the Israelites in the desert, part one concludes with an aria for Moses, 'Gott, sih dein Volk im Staube liegen!'. In fact a prayer, here sung by James Newby, it proved to be a powerful and striking piece with a plangent solo bassoon part. Newby made it moving and impassioned, and you could not help but be struck by the links to the music of CPE Bach's father.

By 1769 Gluck had a very strong reputation, and two of his reform operas, Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste had already been performed in Vienna. For Parma in 1769 he created Le feste d'Apollo which included three one-act operas (including a new version of Orfeo for soprano castrato), and from this we heard the aria 'Nocchier, che in mezzo all'onde' which Gluck had lifted from his cantata Enea e Ascanio and which he would re-use again in his 1774 French version of Orfeo. Chiara Skerath sang with a rich timbre lyric voice, giving us a dramatic and stylish account of the aria with fine passage-work and a lovely sense of character.

The evening concluded with Haydn's Symphony No. 48 in C major which got its subtitle 'Maria Theresia' because it was thought to have been written for Empress Maria Theresa's visit to the palace of Esterhazy in 1773. It is now known that the symphony was written in 1769, but it may well have been performed for the Empress in 1773 as well, it is a very grand, sophisticated and large scale piece. Haydn uses an orchestra which has just oboes, bassoons and horns, but the horn parts are place very high and it is these high, almost trumpet-like horn moments which give the piece its distinctive character. The opening 'Allegro' was richly complex and certainly not all brisk vigour, whilst the gently wistful, elegant 'Adagio' had far from simple textures, though the movement itself seemed to be a little too long for its own good. A robust minuet led to an energetic finale with scurrying strings and the high horn parts to the fore.

Not all the music in the concert was of the highest order, and I have to admit that I have relatively limited attention span when it comes to music from Mozart's youth and early teenage years. But Ian Page and his ensemble gave committed stylish performances, with both soloists making their contributions highly characterful and engaging, and what we learned was the remarkable variety that was available. The young Mozart would certainly not have heard all this music, but it is what was in the air, what he absorbed.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Requiem Masses for murdered royalty: HerveNiquet & Le Concert Spirituel in Requiems for King Louis XVI & Queen Marie Antoinette by Cherubini & by Plantade (★★★) - concert review
  • In transcription: Berlioz arranged Liszt and Richard Strauss arranged Willner at Conway Hall (★★★★)  - concert review
  • A powerful journey: Sir Colin Davis complete live Berlioz recordings on LSO Live  - CD review
  • Faure's Requiem from the Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan School (★★★) - CD review
  • Something of a discovery: Reverie, Icelandic art songs (★★★★) - CD review
  • Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry (★★★★) - CD review
  • Everybody can! Nadine Benjamin's debut in Tosca (★★★★) - opera review
  • The main thing is to sing well and be a good performer: I chat to soprano Chiara Skerath, associate artist with The Mozartists and Classical Opera - interview 
  • Perhaps a film manqué: Stefan Herheim's Queen of Spades at Covent Garden (★★½) - opera review
  • Lux: A trio of striking works to celebrate the Norwegian girls' choir's 25th anniversary (★★★★) - CD review
  • Early and late: Schumann from Robin Tritschler & Graham Johnson at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Stories in music: Roses, Lilies & Other Flowers from The Telling (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bach in Cologne: Christmas Oratorio performed in the Kölner Philharmonie (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Finding an identity in classical music: composer Shirley Thompson on her career and recent projects - interview
  • Unwrapping Venus: the music of Barbara Strozzi at Kings Place (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Home

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