Wednesday 21 December 2016

Baroque and classical delights: La Nuova Musica in Bach, Haydn & Mozart

La Nuova Musica- photo Michael Poehn
La Nuova Musica- photo Michael Poehn
Bach, Mozart, Haydn; Lucy Crowe, David Blackadder, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; St Johns Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Dec 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Bach cantatas, Haydn's St Nicholas Mass and a Mozart soprano showpiece in this delightful Christmas programme

David Peter Bates and La Nuova Musica provided us with four Christmas (or Christmassy) treats on 19 December 2016 as their contribution to the 31st Christmas Festival that runs for most of December at St John’s Smith Square. Their programme consisted of two Baroque favourites by Bach followed by two Classical pieces by Mozart and Haydn, with the soprano showpieces bookended by choral works, performed with soloists soprano Lucy Crowe and trumpeter David Blackadder.

We started with Bach’s Advent cantata, Nun komm, der Heiden Heliand BWV 62, written for Weimar and first performed in 1724. This was played with a muscular energy that made the opening sound like Handel, and this provided a stonking support for the voices; there were only eight of them but they made a beefy sound bigger than one would expect. The tenor recitative and aria sounded as though a baritone might have been at home in them; James Arthur’s earthy recit made time stand still and Augusta Hebbert sang delightfully. The stage choreography could have been better managed, but aurally it was great ensemble.

Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV 51 was first performed in Leipzig – a more extravagant piece for starry soloists, which we certainly had tonight. Lucy Crowe went from crazy coloratura to poised legato and David Blackadder from fortissimo to pianissimo in the twinkling of an eye. The orchestra of strings and organ added to the variety.

After the interval the orchestra was augmented by woodwinds and horns, and Crowe came on with a different frock (red) for Mozart’s much-loved motet Exsultate, Jubilate. This piece was composed when Mozart was at a loose end between Christmas and the end of January 1773 and written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini who was singing in his opera Lucio Silla. Nowadays it seems to be the preserve of sopranos, and Lucy Crowe gave us a glimpse of how she would sing Susanna (Figaro), flirting with the oboe (and the audience) and breathily panting the ‘Alleluias’ in the style of the restaurant scene in When Harry met Sally. It all went down a treat.

Haydn composed his Missa Sanctae Nicolai at the same time as the Mozart, for the name day of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Writing church music was not in his contract with the Esterházys and this mass has a secular, wonderfully outdoorsy feel (with a ‘Credo’ that flew past at breakneck speed). We had to double-check that there were no trumpets or timpani in this arrangement – the ‘pastoral’ illusion was provided by the horns, oboes and double bass. The piece is scored for SATB soloists and SATB choir, and the singers were clearly enjoying it as much as we were.

This was popular repertoire through fresh eyes from Bates and colleagues – he made us listen as though we hadn’t heard any of it before.

Now, I was there to review the concert but, like many people, expect to be able to drink a small pre-concert glass of wine sitting at a table or at least with somewhere to put my glass. Tonight half of the Footstool had been commandeered for serving food, which meant that those of us who just wanted a drink were squashed as though on a rush-hour Northern Line train. Considering this is the 31st Christmas Festival, they have had plenty of chances to get this right. And the hall was not by any means full.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Lucy Crowe – soprano
David Blackadder – trumpet
La Nuova Musica
David Peter Bates – harpsichord & director

Bach – Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV62
Bach – Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV51
Mozart – Exsultate Jubilate K165
Haydn – Missa Sancti Nicolai

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