Mostly Mozart – 10 July

Handel arr. Mozart
Alexander’s Feast

Gillian Keith (soprano)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Stephan Loges (baritone)

The Sixteen
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Jane Glover

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 10 July, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The “Mostly Mozart” series at the Barbican began with Handel, though his Alexander’s Feast was performed in Mozart’s arrangement. The later composer’s additions and alterations did not affect the format of the work but were confined to varying the instrumentation, as when flute and bassoon were added to the aria “With ravish’d ears” or the oboes in “Bacchus, ever fair and Young” were replaced by flutes and clarinets, this latter despite the tenor’s line “Now give the hautboys breath” in the preceding recitative. Far worse things have happened to Handel’s works since Mozart’s time.

The variations fell pleasingly on the ear, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields producing attractive sounds, apart from one or two fluffs from the horns. “Delicious” was the adjective used by Jane Glover in her brief talk to the audience before she turned to conduct, applying it to Mozart’s instrumentation. Nobody would argue with her, I am sure.

One can hear in London (and elsewhere in Britain!) some fine choirs and choruses, and it is always a joy to listen to the voices of The Sixteen (actually 26 on this occasion). Nothing was strident; nothing jarred; all came together in glorious harmony: the fresh-toned sopranos, the pungent altos (mainly male), the clear tenors, and the firm basses.

Jane Glover allowed welcome decorations of da capo arias, gently done. She supported her singers well, though a comment was made in the interval that a bit more “oomph” would have been beneficial occasionally. If the sopranos of The Sixteen were fresh of voice, they were matched by the pellucid sound of the young Canadian soprano Gillian Keith, who had the agility for florid passages (though Handel asks for nothing in Alexander’s Feast that could be compared with some of the ornate arias in Semele) and who shaded her tone enough to make me notice how effectively she provided a slightly withdrawn sound for the little recitative “He chose a mournful muse, soft pity to infuse”: soft of pity; soft of tone.

The more experienced Mark Padmore sang expressively in recitative and encompassed the long runs of some arias without much difficulty. I particularly liked his singing of “The princes applaud with a furious joy” (Dryden’s telling phrase). Stephan Loges is a baritone, and although the low notes were not beyond him one felt that a darker, richer voice would have been more suited. He did, however, enunciate the divisions of “Revenge, Timotheus cries” without sloppiness or aspirates, contrasting the outer sections and the slow, gloomy middle part most successfully.

“Mostly Mozart”, therefore, was given an enjoyable start. It runs at the Barbican Hall till 2 August. Further vocal works are La finta giardiniera with Lisa Saffer and Majella Cullagh under Steuart Bedford on 19 July, and The Impresario and Salieri’s Prima la musica pui la Parole on 26 July. Mozart’s Requiem closes the festival.

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