Wednesday 24 January 2018

1768 - a retrospective

Claudia Skerath, Ian Page and The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall
Claudia Skerath, Ian Page and The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall
Haydn, Jomelli, Mozart, JC Bach, Vanhal; Chiara Skerath, Katy Bircher, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Ian Page explores the music of 1768 in the latest instalment of the Mozart 250 project

Ian Page and The Mozartists' Mozart 250 celebration has reached the year 1768, and the 12 year-old Mozart is in Vienna with his father trying, unsuccessfully, to get Wolfgang's opera La finta semplice produced. Page will be conducting staged performances of La finta semplice later this year, but in the mean time he present the ensemble's annual round-up of the music that was around Mozart at the time. So, on Tuesday 23 January 2018 at the Wigmore Hall, Page conducted the Mozartists, with soprano Chiara Skerath and flautist Katy Bircher in Haydn's Symphony No 26 in D minor 'Lamentatione', an aria from Jomelli's Fetonte, JC Bach's Flute Concerto in D minor, two arias from Haydn's Lo speziale, the overture and an aria from Mozart's La finta semplice, an aria from Hasse's Piramo e Tisbe and Vanhal's Symphony in D minor (d1).

With three symphonies and a concerto (the Mozart overture was in fact a re-working of one of his symphonies) the programme was a little too sturm-und-drang classical symphony heavy, and it was the varied arias superbly sung by Chiara Skerath which were the highlights. Skerath's lively personality shone out in all her singing, and a sense of her delight at being there.

We opened with Haydn's Symphony No. 26. In 1768 Haydn was 36 and working for Prince Esterhazy, he would have a long career and many more symphonies ahead of him.
This one seems to have been based on music written for a Passion re-enactment, each of the first two movements incorporated a plainchant melody, with Haydn adding a third movement to complete the symphony. The result was far more sturm-und-drang than expected and it was the impulsive cross-rhythms of the opening movement which stood out, creating some busy textures through which Haydn threaded the chant. The second movement combined the chant melody with a walking bass and a twiddly violin counter-melody, to striking effect, and the whole was completed with a vigorous minuet. Clearly the passion re-enactments at Esterhaza were lively affairs.

Jomelli's Fetonte (Phaeton) was the 26th of 27 operas that he composed for the Duke of Wurttemburg, for the newly built court theatre in Ludwigsburg. It is the story of Phaeton and the libretto was based on Lully's opera. Fetonte's Act Two aria, 'Ombre, che tacite' comes as he is psyching himself up to overcome his terror and ascent the path to the heavens. Jomelli created a striking instrumental sound-scape, evoking the shadows, full of uneven noises. Gluckian in some ways, the quite direct vocal line was set against this instrumental web. Chiara Skerath's lovely dark toned soprano was highly expressive, and it made you want to hear more of the opera [I could not managed to track down a recording of this, but see the comments for links to the opera on YouTube including one from Ludwigsburg, where it was premiered].

JC Bach's Flute concerto in D major was written for the concert series which he and Abel ran in London. In three movements, it is a poised and fluent work full of galant delight. After a long orchestral introduction, Katy Bircher's sweet-toned flute was finally let of the leash in a part which was full of gentle busyness rather than brilliant dazzle. The middle movement was graceful and fluid, with a lovely moment when the solo flute was just accompanied by pizzicato. And finally, an attractively flowing 'Rondeaux'. Though I have to confess that by now my attention was waning somewhat, fluid played and finely crafted, for me the concerto lacked something in strong individuality.

We finished the first half with a pair of arias from Haydn's Lo speziale (The Apothecary), an opera based on a Goldoni comic libretto. Not all the opera survives, so it is difficult to revive, but we heard Volpino's two arias, 'Amore nel mio petto si e', and 'Salamelica, Sempurgna cara'. The first was energetic with the vocal part vividly projected by Chiara Skerath. The second aria was completely mad, as the character is pretending to be Turkish, and Haydn's writing was full of deliberate clumsiness. Skerath was completely delightful here, really entering into the fun.

After the interval we heard the overture and the aria 'Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete' from Mozart's La finta semplice. The overture was again vigorous, and played with lively engagement by the orchestra, subsiding into gently lyric busyness in the second movement, with a spirited finale. The aria was something else again, with Mozart showing his astonishing maturity and crafting something which placed a lovely spun vocal line against a rich orchestra texture. Sung with great poise by Skerath, this was a piece that was certainly prescient of the riches to come in future years.

By 1768, the composer Johann Adolf Hasse had virtually retired. He and his wife, the soprano Faustina Bordone, were no longer the European music power couple and lived in retirement in Vienna. His opera Pyramus e Tisbe is based on Ovid (the same story as guyed by Britten in A Midsummer Night's Dream). The piece is one of Hasse's best, and his most advanced, using a great deal more orchestral recitative than in Hasse's earlier operas, and evidently several of the arias flow directly into the next scene. We heard Tisbe's 'Pedero l'amato bene', a remarkably Mozartian piece in some ways, sung with great poise by Skerath. Again, it made me curious about the rest of the opera [There is in fact a complete recording from Michael Schneider and La Stagione on Capriccio].

Finally, we heard the Symphony in D minor (d1) by Vanhal. This Bohemian composer wrote a considerable number of symphonies, and dating and attribution is tricky. This one seems to have been written in the late 1760s. In four movements, it opened with great energy and a lively sense of forward propulsion. The graceful second movement showcased the flutes, whilst the robust minuet contrasted with the lyrical trio. The final was all vigorous sturm-und-drang, but had one or two repeats too many.

The virtual of these omnium gatherum concerts is that Ian Page and his orchestra enable us to hear a wide variety of the music which was around at the time, music which we might otherwise never hear. And whatever the quality of the music, Page is wonderfully adept at getting finely characterful and highly engaging performances from his ensemble.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • The Schuman's at Home - Julius Drake and Sophie Bevan at Temple Music - concert review
  • Eavesdropping on David Pountney rehearsing Verdi's La forza del destino at Welsh National Opera - feature article
  • Chants d'amour - Louise Alder and James Baillieu in Mozart, Bizet, Strauss, Mendelssohn, Faure, Liszt at the Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • The Phantom of the Opera - still going strong after 30 years - music theatre review
  • Hortus Musicus: Jerusalem - Early music and traditional melodies from this Estonian group - CD review
  • Handel's rarely done Lotario emerges as far less of a problem opera in this engaging performance from a young cast at Göttingen festival - CD review
  • A Fancy: 17th century English theatre music from a French ensemble - CD review
  • Jazz-inspired in Cologne: Junge Deutscher Philharmonie & Ingo Metzmacher in Harrison Birtwistle, Rolf Liebermann, Bernard Herrmann - concert review
  • 17th century French lute music: Tombeaux - a secular requiem from Richard MacKenzie - CD review
  • Mendelssohn in Cologne: Elijah from the Kölner Philharmonie - Concert review
  • All round achievement: Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses at the Roundhouse - Opera review
  • Blood, sex, incest & subtlety: Salome at Covent Garden - Opera review
  • Silence & MusicPaul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort - CD review
  • Home


  1. As always, a detailed and interesting review from Robert H! No Fetonte recording, but there are a couple of versions on YouTube: one from Milan from 1988: and another in three parts from Ludwigsburg in 2001: Pt1.; Pt2.; Pt3.

    1. Wonderful will get exploring. I have actually heard opera in Ludswigsburg, not Jomelli alas but Le Nozze di Figaro!


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