Saturday 12 March 2011

Mozart Unwrapped (4) - King's College Choir/Cleobury, 11 March 2011

Hall One, Kings Place

Missa brevis in B-flat major, KV 275/272b
Divertimento in F major, KV 247, ‘First Lodron Night-Music’
Gradual (Introit): Sancta Maria, mater Dei, KV 273
Missa brevis in F major, KV 192/186f, interspersed with:
Church Sonata in F major, KV 224
Offertorium de B.V. Maria: Alma Dei creatoris, KV 277
Communion: Gregorian chant

Krysia Osostowicz, Giles Francis (violins)
Judith Busbridge (viola)
Bernard Gregor-Smith (violoncello)
Steven Stirling, Sue Dent (French horns)
Peter Buckoke (double bass)
Ben-San Lau, Parker Ramsay (Organ Scholars)
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Stephen Cleobury (conductor)

Mozart continues to be ‘unwrapped’ at Kings Place. I confess that I no more understand the designation than I did before – or than I did for Beethoven and Chopin – but more importantly, this exploration of sacred and other music for Salzburg offered a delightful evening. The Choir of King’s College under Stephen Cleobury made a welcome debut at the festival, joined by the Dante Quartet and other instrumentalists.

At the heart of the programme stood two missae breves. KV 275/272b, in B-flat major, opened the concert. The unassuming nature of the performance put me in mind of the delightful St John’s recordings of Haydn and Mozart under George Guest. (Cleobury was one of the Guest era’s numerous organ scholars.) That said, the sounds of King’s and John’s remain distinct: the former ‘whiter’, more ‘English’, the latter more ‘Continental’ in timbre. King’s, however, had been joined by a notably fruity tenor, especially prominent when intoning ‘Credo in unum Deum’. After the Credo, a little echo reminded me of its big brother in King’s Chapel itself, but the new location of Hall One, Kings Place, could otherwise hardly stand more distinct from the choir’s home. There were, then, no musical – or rather anti-musical – shock tactics; instead, straightforward musical virtues, such as clarity of line and diction, cleanness of counterpoint, and a decent affection for Mozart’s setting, were to the fore. The Sanctus sounded nicely but never pedantically ‘constructed’; structure is always central, indeed crucial, to Mozart performance. Boys’ voices had a particular opportunity to shine, well taken, in the Benedictus. And the lovingly extended ‘Dona nobis pacem’ music sounded every bit as catchy as it should be.

The rest of the first half was devoted to the First Lodron Night-Music. Three members of the Dante quartet and double bass were now joined by the remaining quartet member (viola) and two horns. This equally delightful divertimento received a performance that was sharp yet warm, and eminently cultivated, its first movement inflections effortlessly ‘natural’: characteristics that ought to go without saying in Mozart performance, yet are frequently notable only by their absence. Inner movements proved elegantly turned indeed, yet each possessed its own particular character, whether the ravishing horn beauties of the third or the joy of the inner parts’ interplay during the fourth. The latter’s minor-mode material provided dignified pathos, without exaggeration, whilst the pizzicato lines of the fifth movement were simply delightful. Mozart’s finale proved as cheekily catchy as the ‘Dona’ music from the mass, all the more so on account of the players’ resisting any temptation heedlessly to rush.

For the second half, the Missa brevis in F major, KV 192/186f, was presented semi-liturgically. That is, to say, there was no celebration of the Mass, but accompanying music was provided, from the introductory Gradual to Gregorian Chant – ‘Beata viscera Mariae Virginis, quae porta verunt aetemi Patris Filium. Alleluia' – which led straight into the Agnus Dei. South German Rococo joy was present, yet never overdone, in the opening Sancta Maria, KV 273: in Mozart, less so often proves more. Once again, musical structure was admirably clear. The Kyrie imparted an apt sense of earlier-century Neapolitan sacred music, its delights heightened once again by admirably cultivated string playing. Viennese style of Caldara and still more Fux came effortlessly to the foreground in the Gloria. It was a joy to hear the chamber organ (Ben-San Lau) for one of those glorious Epistle Sonatas that we seemingly never have opportunity to hear. (If only they could be programmed every time in place, say, of a Vivaldi concerto!) The Credo’s foreshadowing of the triumph of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony’s finale – its quintessentially Fuxian contrapuntal tag, C-D-F-E, here of course in F major, so F,G, B flat, A – was all the more welcome for being simply presented rather than hammered home. Alma Dei creatoris, the offertory hymn, was distinguished by a radiantly imploring treble line: how could the Mother of God decline to intercede? The censer – albeit English rather than full-bloodedly Austrian Baroque – was almost rendered visible in the jubilant ‘Osanna’.

I look forward to the second instalment on 12 October, when the Second Lodron Night-Music will join two further missae breves, in G major, KV 140 and D major, KV 194/186h, the latter interspersed with further Gregorian chant, the D major Church Sonata, KV 245, the Offertorium, Venite populi, KV 260 and that ineffably sublime late motet, Ave verum corpus, KV 618. For further details concerning ‘Mozart Unwrapped’, click here.