Academy of Ancient Music/Michael Collins at Milton Court – Mozart – Nicola Boud plays the Clarinet Concerto & Soraya Mafi sings arias, plus Salieri & Amalia

Symphony in D (Sinfonia Veneziana)
Symphony No.27 in G, K199
Zaide, K344 – Ruhe sanft, mein Holdes Leben
Nehmt meines Dank, K383
Il rè pastore, K208 – Aer tranqilloe di sereni
Erwin und Elmire – Overture
Symphony No.16 in C, K128
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622

Soraya Mafi (soprano)

Nicola Boud (basset clarinet)

Academy of Ancient Music
Michael Collins

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 29 November, 2018
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Soraya Mafi Photograph: Cristina HaldaneSalieri’s music is rarely heard in concert but this courtly three-movement Symphony from 1786 certainly charmed the ear. As often the case during that period, existing music was used in its assembly. The opening Allegro assai incorporates the Overture to La scuola de gelosi and the remaining movements are from La partenza inaspettata. The result is a gracious, neatly constructed work, Italianate in nature although the title ‘Sinfonia Veneziana’ has nothing to do with Salieri, it having been added for a twentieth-century edition.

K199 is similarly graceful but a little more dramatic. It begins with a few bars that seem extraordinarily like Haydn. Woodwinds dominate and, unusually, flutes but not oboes are used. The central Andante grazioso steps out of early-1770s style with subtle pizzicatos in the bass and unexpected switches to the minor key. The four-note theme evident in the Finale foreshadows those to be found in the corresponding movement of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony – it is amazing how often this rising and falling phrase appears in music. In Michael Collins’s sparkling interpretation he observed first repeats only (as per the Ricordi score) and not both (as per Bärenreiter).

Nicola BoudPhotograph: Eric larrayadieuAll the orchestral music here is in three movements and the three pieces sung by Soraya Mafi followed the pattern – a comfortable sequence with two operatic excerpts surrounding a concert aria. Elegance was of the essence in her singing and in the excerpt taken from the unfinished Zaide her voice was balanced ideally with the orchestra; rather than stress the drama underlying the words she shaped the themes as if her voice were a further instrument. K383 was sung with grace and sympathy – a peaceful interlude. The words are banal but the way in which Mozart sets them is beautiful. Turning from German texts to Italian, the more theatrical-sounding selection from Il rè pastore suitably rounded-off the progression and it was refreshing to hear the theatrical high-lying phrases achieved with sonorous calmness, while avoiding over-dramatisation.

Amalia (1739-1807) – Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel – had a most interesting life, including a two-year term ruling the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach as regent, pending her son reaching the age that permitted him to take over the appointment from his deceased father. The Overture to her singspiel Erwin und Elmire is a three-movement Sinfonia – full of bright melodic ideas with a joyful dancing Finale. The same description could be applied to the last movement of K128, which Collins presented in a particularly vivid account. Mozart’s use of horns is interesting – the period instruments were crooked in C-basso but their parts have few sustained chords and mostly support with separated notes so that their low pitch does not cloud the texture. The strings-only Andante grazioso has its graciousness interrupted humorously by an argumentative bass line and near the end of the Finale; the horns are released and stray off into a series of hunting calls.

Originally, Collins was to have played Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto but illness prevented his full attention to preparing it. Nicola Boud replaced him and, as would be expected in a period-instrument reading, she used a basset-clarinet. Modern instruments are unable to play the lower notes required, so to represent the original accurately, this rare instrument provides the solution. How pleasant to hear some of the familiar phrases played at the lower octave. Collins has performed the work innumerable times, therefore he was the ideal conductor to partner Boud and their close rapport was clearly evident. In general this was a swifter performance than is usually heard and it suited Boud’s lyrical style. Her view of the music involved a certain amount of legato phrasing and firm forward progress. This was a fluent, sensitive and ultimately exciting performance of this great masterpiece, so firmly structured that it gave the work a symphonic nature.

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