Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro, KV 492: OvertureMozart – Vesperæ solennes de confessore, KV 339: ‘Laudate dominum’
Mozart – Piano Concerto no.21 in C major, KV 467
Haydn – Missa in tempore belli, Hob.XXII/9
Leon McCawley (piano)
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Anna Harvey (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
Ashley Riches (bass-baritone)
City of London Choir
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Hilary Davan Wetton (conductor)
A wonderful concert, quite the tonic (if you will forgive the Classical pun, initially unintended). Hilary Davan Wetton and the RPO began with the Figaro Overture. ‘Authenticists’, although not the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt, would probably have described it as ‘sedate’, but it was not; there was life to it and real symphonic stature too (lack of a development section notwithstanding). Crisp, warm, with nothing exaggerated to the accents, nor to anything else, it sounded just right. There was some gorgeous horn-playing too.
My only complaint about the next item was that we did not get to hear the entire KV 339 Vespers. No matter: we heard a lovely account of the most celebrated ‘number’, ‘Laudate Dominum’. Grace Davidson offered a clean, honest, stylishly ornamented performance of the soprano part, her bell-like voice ideally suited. Warm playing and choral singing from the City of London Choir were equally appreciated.
Leon McCawley joined the orchestra for an excellent performance of the C major Piano Concerto, KV 467. Davan Wetton imparted a fine sense of the martial quasi-neo-Classicism (think La clemenza di Tito, but not quite) to the opening tutti. Sternness but also a willingness to yield were hallmarks of the performance as a whole. Lovely wind playing was answered by McCawley’s pearly tone, every note weighed for its colour, without a hint of pedantry. The music ‘flowed like oil’, as someone once said. Trills were an especial joy. The second group was, rightly, both related and contrasted to what had gone before, form assuming its own dynamism and balance. The piano writing looked forward at times to Beethoven, without ever sounding quite ‘like’ him. Nina Milkina’s cadenza here (and in the finale) offered a winning sense of fidelity through Romantic anachronism. The slow movement benefited from beautiful string playing, a perfect marriage of arco and pizzicato redolent of warm evening serenades. If that evoked Salzburg, McCawley’s piano evoked Vienna, and rightly so. Phrasing was inobtrusively ‘right’, a tribute to soloist, orchestra, and conductor alike. Above all, the music sang. The finale emerged as heir to both its predecessors, the RPO woodwind leading us into a veritable garden of delights. Chamber and orchestral tendencies were held in splendid balance throughout.
Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli received an equally fine performance. Its opening ‘Kyrie’ already seemed to speak both of the composer’s warm humanity and of his symphonic-developmental genius. Davidson’s soprano entry presented us with a change of tempo and mood, with all the virtues of her solo performance. Davan Wetton took the movement at quite a lick, yet without hurrying, let alone harrying, it. And how could one not fall in love, were one not already, with the composer of those responsorial (now soprano/alto to tenor/bass, now vice versa) eleisons? The ‘Gloria’ likewise had a proper sense of Haydn’s gloriously civilised eighteenth-century nature, with serious symphonic backbone lest one fall back on clichés of ‘Papa’. Davan Wetton’s choral experience was very clear – and welcome, as was the discipline of the singers themselves. The cello solo for the ‘Qui tollis’ section had its richness matched – sorry about another unintended pun – by that of the bass-baritone of Ashley Riches. Clarity and warmth were, again, shown to be anything but antithetical. There was a gloriously rich choral sound too on ‘suscipe’, followed by hushed by ‘deprecationem nostram’ premonitions of the Missa solemnis, also to be heard upon the imprecation ‘miserere nobis’. Highly convincingly, the ‘Quoniam’ section was taken at the tempo of a typical Haydn symphonic finale. Those ‘Amens’: again, how could one not adore them?
The opening of the ‘Credo’ was taken slower, the sturdiness of the Church as Rock of St Peter vividly communicated. Haydn’s neo-Baroque tendencies were here given their full due. The dark orchestral writing of the ‘Et incarnatus est’ section, not just its harmonies, but also its neo-Handelian writing for bassoon (I thought of the Witch of Endor), was splendidly conveyed. Mark Wilde’s Italianate manner and Anna Harvey’s richness of tone somehow both seemed to prepare the way for the firework-like ‘Et resurrexit’. The final fugue, quite rightly, returned to that opening sturdiness, again evoking Handel. Out of that, the ‘Amens’ sounded gorgeous: fruit that was almost Mozartian in its indecency.
Sweetness and vigour characterised the ‘Sanctus’, Wilde’s contribution finely balanced. The ‘Bendictus’ sounded both tragically imploring and imploringly tragic, prior to the balm of the major mode, properly post-Mozartian in its ambivalence. Musical values were never sacrificed to the merely ‘theatrical’ in the ‘Agnus Dei’, although the military music was played for everything it was worth. (Again, Haydn seemed to steal from the Beethovenian future.) Choral consolation was as real as it was lovable. We all need more Haydn in our lives; we all need more choral Haydn in our lives. Next stop: The Seasons on Sunday, from the LSO and Simon Rattle.