Saturday 30 January 2016

Magnificent Feast - Mozart's birthday at the Wigmore Hall

Michael Collins
Michael Collins
Mozart Serenade in B flat major 'Gran Partita', La clemenza di Tito'Parto parto ma tu ben mio', Clarinet Concerto in A major; Michael Collins, Christine Rice, London Winds, City of London Sinfonia; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jan 27 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Mozart's 260th birthday celebrated in fine style at the Wigmore Hall

The versatile Michael Collins and friends celebrated Mozart's 260th birthday in style to a capacity Wigmore Hall audience on 27 January 2016. The stage was just as full as the auditorium too. We weren't just celebrating a birthday, we were also feasting on the fruits of Mozart's partnership with virtuoso clarinettist and basset-horn player Anton Stadler, with Serenade in B flat major for 13 wind instruments K361 'Gran Partita', 'Parto parto ma tu ben mio' from La clemenza di Tito K621 and the Clarinet Concerto in A major K622 performed with mezzo-soprano Christine Rice, London Winds and the City of London Sinfonia.

Christine Rice - © Patricia Taylor
Christine Rice
© Patricia Taylor
First came the Serenade in B flat for 13 instruments, the 'Gran Partita'. Rather than the double bassoon we hear more often, tonight's ensemble included a double bass. This was probably Mozart's intended scoring. Once the symphony of hearing aids in all keys expect B flat major had died down in the auditorium (perhaps time to consider a reminder along with the mobile-phone message?), the sound world was deliciously velvety, and the fact there was so little elbow-room on the stage meant that there was an intensity and a tightness to the ensemble, whatever the scoring of a particular movement. The portentous Largo opening gave way to the delicate clarinet and bluesy basset horns. The third movement, the Adagio, was achingly beautiful, the four horns brooding in the back row while the oboe sang an aria. The sixth movement, Tema con variazioni, gave lots of chances for showcases of each of the instruments, as well as some opportunities for ad-hoc DIY on stage. The piece lasts about three-quarters of an hour and the scoring is very efficient in that it gives the players chances to catch their breath, sort out reeds and so on. It also contributed to the freshness of the piece.

The finale is a Molto allegro that gave us the impression the town band had come on stage. Raucous and playful, it sent us all off to the bar with huge smiles on our faces.

After the interval we had Sesto's first aria from La clemenza di Tito, sung by Christine Rice. This was performed as a duet for mezzo-soprano and clarinet (here in B flat rather than Stadler's basset clarinet). Rice gave a masterclass in how to pace a Mozart aria, with all the heroics, the confusion, and the bravado of the treacherous coloratura at the end. Collins was at her shoulder, playing the character of Vitellia, Sesto's beloved, on whose behalf he was prepared to kill his best friend. We heard the clarinet egging on the hero, sinuous, flirty, needy. This was the love duet that doesn't take place between the singers in the opera – the clarinet has the role instead. It was a shame the house lights were up during this piece, though; we didn't really need to read every word of the text in order to appreciate the drama.

To finish, the Clarinet Concerto in A, exploiting the luxurious lower extension of the instrument (making it sound like a hunting horn, according to the press at the time), and demonstrating Collins' stunning virtuosity across the three octaves as well as his huge expressive range. The slow movement was one of those occasions where Mozart makes time stand still, the pulse of the lower strings grounding the gorgeous solo tune. The concerto was written in 1791, the same year as The Magic Flute; just as in the opera, all doubt was dispelled by the quixotic final section.

A marvellous evening and a magnificent birthday feast for all.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Michael Collins clarinet, director
Christine Rice mezzo-soprano

London Winds:
Clarinet: Michael Collins, Peter Sparks
Bassett horn Laurent Ben Slimane, Andrew Webster
Oboe: Gareth Hulse, Katie Clemmow
Bassoon: Robin O'Neill, Shelly Organ
Horn: Stephen Stirling, Beth Randall, Mark Paine, Sue Dent
Double bass: Benjamin Russell

City of London Sinfonia:
Violin 1: Alexandra Wood
, Martin Burgess, Fiona McCapra
Violin 2: Jane Carwardine, Ruth Funnell, Francesca Barritt
Viola: Fiona Bonds, Rebecca Jones
Cello: Sue Dorey, Judith Herbert
Double bass: Ben Russell
Flute: Philippa Davies, Rebecca Davies
Bassoon: Dominic Tyler, Stuart Russell
Horn: Stephen Stirling, Beth Randall

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