Friday 10 January 2020

The music around him: a look at Mozart as he writes Mitridate, Re di Ponto in The Mozartists '1770 - a retrospective' at Wigmore Hall

Mozart in January 1770 (School of Verona, attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli )
Mozart in January 1770
(School of Verona, attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli )
1770 - a retrospective - Mozart, Vanhal, GLuck, Haydn, JC Bach, Jommelli; Samantha Clarke, Ida Ränzlöv, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A fascinating look at 14-year-old Mozart in Italy and the music that was around at the time

So, we have reached 1770 in Ian Page and The Mozartists ambitious Mozart 250 project which tracks Mozart's progress year by year. 1770 means that we have reached the first of his major youthful operas, the highly impressive Mitridate, Re di Ponto, premiered in Milan, but there was much else happening that year also.

For 1770 - a retrospective at Wigmore Hall on 9 January 2020, Ian Page and The Mozartists were joined by soprano Samantha Clarke and mezzo-soprano Ida Ränzlöv for a programme of music from 1770 with symphonies by Vanhal and JC Bach, plus arias and duets from Gluck's Paride ed Elena, Haydn's Lo speziale and Le pescatrici, JC Bach's Gioas, re di Giuda, Jommelli's Demofoonte and Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto. Music that was premiered in Vienna, London, Esterhaza, Naples and Milan.

We started with the Symphony in E minor by the Vienna-based Bohemian composers Johann Baptist Vanhal, one of around 100 symphonies that he seems to have written. His Symphony in E minor was part of a group published by Breitkopf in 1770. It is a compact, four-movement work. The opening Allegro moderato was elegant with some vigour, followed by a graceful Andante for strings only. The minuet was robust with a trio for wind only. As with other music of this period, I found that there was a sense of slightly too many repeats for the good of the music, and the work only really took off in the finale, which was full of crisp energy and vivid contrasts.

Gluck's Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) is the third of his so-called Reform operas written with librettist Ranieri de'Calzabigi. Premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1770, the opera is full of good things but the story of Paris' wooing and winning of Helen of Troy lacks the element of tragic drama which make Orfeo ed Eurydice and Alceste so intense.
Ida Ränzlöv performed two of Paride's arias, the first 'O del mio dolce ardor' notable for the long spun lines over busy strings (a texture which, interestingly, would crop up in the first aria we heard from Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto). Ränzlöv sang with expressively vibrant tone, yet beautifully relaxed too and duetted nicely with the oboe. The second aria, 'Le belle imagini' was prefixed by an impressive recitative, and moved from the touchingly thoughtful to something stronger. Both arias relied very much on the method of delivery, these were not showpieces in their own right, and Ränzlöv was impressive and engaging, making Gluck's lines really count.

Next, Samantha Clarke sang a pair of arias from operas by Haydn, both performed at the new palace of Esterhaza built by Haydn's employer, Prince Esterhazy. Haydn's comic opera, Lo speziale was also performed in Vienna in 1770, as the Prince was keen to showcase Haydn's operatic talents. Grilletta's aria 'Caro Volipno amabile' from Lo speziale proved to be delightful as Clarke captured the flirtatious mix of flattery and rejection in the piece. Haydn's Le pescatrici, which premiered at a wedding at Esterhaza in September 1770, is tantalising. Commentators imply that it would be one of Haydn's best operas, but unfortunately it does not survive complete. Clarke sang Lesbina's aria, 'Gia si vede i vezzi e vanti' in which the character seeks to emphasis her supposed aristocratic status with impressive coloratura, which Clarke sang with style and charm, but then in a vivid second verse slags off her fellows in more startling language!

The first half finished with a duet from JC Bach's oratorio Gioas, re di Giuda which he wrote for his London concerts in 1770. The libretto is based on the same book in the Bible as Handel's Athalia (which premiered in 1733). The duet is between Jehoash (Ida Ränzlöv) and his mother Zibiah (Samantha Clarke), a lovely, very classical-seeming piece. Listening to it you could understand the young Mozart's debt to the composer.

The second half opened with Mozart, Sifare's Act Two aria 'Lungi da te, mio bene' from Mitridate, Re di Ponto sung by Samantha Clarke. A poignant piece (Sifare is lamenting his parting from his beloved) with a fabulous horn solo which was so substantial as to turn the piece into a duet, and I particularly admired the wonderful range of colours that the solo horn player brought to the aria.

By 1770, Niccolo Jommelli's employer the Duke of Wurttemberg had run out of money and had to let his musical establishment go. The duke had employed Jommelli for over 25 years, and encouraged the composer in his 27 operas to experiment with the sort of advanced techniques that Gluck and Calzabigi would use in their reform operas. Jommelli's 1770 setting of Metastasio's Demofoonte (his fourth setting of the text) was written for Naples. The plot is barmy, but at one point the hero Timante (Ida Ränzlöv) thinks that his wife Dircea (Samantha Clarke) is in fact his sister so that their child is the result of an incestuous union, which gives the excuse for a powerful aria delivered to the child. First there was a sequence of highly expressive accompanied recitative, and then the aria for Ränzlöv, 'Misero pargoletto!' was rather touching with a starker more dramatic middle section. Ränzlöv's performance was poised and expressive, but you felt that the music was a little too civilised for the intensity of the subject  - a father addressing his apparently incestuous child!

JC Bach's Symphony in G minor, Op.6 No.6 was one of a set published in 1770 and written for the Bach-Abel concerts in Soho Square. A compact, three-movement work,  it opened with a vigorous Allegro full of contrasts, followed by an Andante which was based around a striking unison figure which leant a strikingly powerful element to the movement, taking it away from the conventional slow movement (though again you felt there were too many repeats). The finally was full of vigorous drama and contrasts, all Sturm und Drang. Yet this admirably concise movement ended up in the air.

Finally, we had a duet from Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Sifare and Aspasia's 'Se viver no degg'io' with Samantha Clarke as Aspasia and Ida Ränzlöv as Sifare. This was strong stuff, vibrantly sung with some pretty fierce passage-work.

Whilst none of the music in the concert was earth-shattering (apologies to those who place Mitridate on a pedestal), it was fascinating to hear what was around at the time Mozart was writing his opera and to listen to the various operatic developments, some advanced, some less so. The performances were all strong, and clearly Ian Page loves and understands this music, drawing out finely expressive and strongly speaking performances from all concerned. I was very taking with Ida Ränzlöv's way with Gluck, but both soloists drew out fine qualities in the music.

Ian Page and the Mozartists will be exploring this theme at greater length at their Mozart in Italy festival at the Cadogan Hall on 6 to 8 March 2020, when they will be performing excerpts from works Mozart would have heard during his Italian sojourn including Jommelli's Armida abbandonata, reckoned to be a big influence on Mitridate, and also giving us the opportunity to compare and contrast arias from Mozart's Mitridate with the settings of the same texts from Gasparini's 1767 Mitridate, Re di Ponto.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Handel Uncaged: chamber cantatas revealed in new context by Lawrence Zazzo on Inventa (★★★★½) - Cd review
  • Haydn’s The Creation at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Purcell Choir produced a memorable performance under Ádám Fischer (★★★★) - concert review
  • The other concertos: Mendelssohn's Double Concerto & Piano Concerto No. 1 from the Stankov Ensemble (★★★½) - CD review
  • Britten and Dowland: Allan Clayton, Sean Shibe, Timothy Ridout and James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer explores the brilliant piano music of Aram Khachaturian on this debut disc (★★★★) - CD review 
  • 2019 in CD reviews - article
  • 2019 in concert and opera reviews - article
  • Dramatic Elgar and rare Chadwick from BBC National Orchestra of Wales & Andrew Constantine on Orchid Classics (★★★½) - Cd review
  • The first time that someone has written something major on composer Roger Sacheverell Coke since the 1990s: I chat to pianist Simon Callaghan about his forthcoming disc and his academic research into the neglected composer  - interview
  • A hugely rewarding journey: I and Silence, Marta Fontanals Simmons & Lana Bode in Aaron Copland, Dominick Argento, Peter Lieberson, Samuel Barber, and George Crumb - (★★★★) CD review
  • Prayer of the Heart: the Brodsky Quartet & the Gesualdo Six in a sequence of music from Tavener to Panufnik (father and daughter) - concert review
  • Bach, Feery, Maconchy, Beamish, Imogen Holst: music for solo viola from Rosalind Ventris  (★★★★) - concert review
  • A striking voice revealed: piano music by contemporary composer Janet Graham spanning nearly 40 years  - CD review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month