Mostly Mozart – The Sixteen

Coronation Anthem – Zadok the Priest
Symphony No.85 in B flat (La Reine)
Nun ist das Heil (Cantata No.50)
Solomon – Arrival of the Queen of Sheba; May Peace in Salem ever Dwell … Will the Sun Forget to Streak?
Mass in C, K317 (Coronation)

Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Frances Bourne (mezzo-soprano)
Simon Berridge (tenor)
Jonathan Arnold (bass-baritone)

The Sixteen

The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Harry Christophers

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 29 July, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The ‘Royalty’ factor linked the works in this “Mostly Mozart” concert. The anthem “Zadok the Priest” was written for the coronation of George II; ‘La Reine’ in Haydn’s Symphony No.85 refers to Marie-Antoinette, who apparently expressed a liking for the piece; the opening chorus from Bach’s otherwise-lost cantata speaks of the kingdom of God; the subject of Handel’s Solomon is self-evident; and Mozart’s C major Mass was performed at one of the numerous coronation ceremonies for King Leopold II in 1791.

Harry Christophers and his team of musicians delivered robust and, as was the case with the Mozart, astonishingly fluent performances, with a homogeneity of sound that further helped to unify the varying styles on offer; unfortunately, a certain monotony also crept in at times, most apparent in the Haydn symphony, the overall approach in stark contrast to that found in John Eliot Gardiner’s recent polychrome and rhythmically vital Haydn Prom (including the ‘Nelson’ Mass and Symphony No.90).

“Zadok the Priest” opened the concert, and took a while to come together, despite the beautifully majestic choral entry, with some ropy string playing and shoddy ensemble from the singers. But by the end, all was forgiven, with both choir and instrumentalists now well-oiled and producing a rich, luminous sound. The Haydn followed, the first movement again a little slow in coming together but really delivering the goods in the development section. A lack of clear articulation and tonal differentiation made the ‘Romance’ seem over-long; ditto with the Menuet and Trio, despite a good tempo. The final Presto was perhaps the most successful movement, taken at a brisk enough pace to allow the rhythmic impetus to override any questionable considerations of phrasing or tone.

The performance of Bach’s majestic chorus for double choir and orchestra, “Nun ist das Heil” (Now is Salvation), was near-flawless and in stark contrast to the Handel. After this came excerpts from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon”. The ever-popular ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ was linked seamlessly to the eponymous queen’s recitative and aria wherein she thanks Solomon for his hospitality, which demonstrated Carolyn Sampson’s stylish singing, her projection in particular being more impressive than I had remembered. Accompanied by obliggato oboe doubled by a flute, Sampson weaved her lines effortlessly into the orchestral texture, finishing with a graceful cadential trill.

Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Mass ended the programme with a bang, the succession of solos, quartets and choral sections propelling the music forward between the more reflective moments and the broad opening of the ‘Sanctus’. The trumpet and timpani work was sensational; the vocal soloists were all impressive, especially Sampson in the highly operatic ‘Agnus Dei’ (her first “miserere nobis” was singularly affecting). The final ‘Dona nobis pacem’, which thickens from quartet to chorus, provided a fitting coda to a largely enjoyable if slightly uneven concert.

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