Mozart Live and Recorded

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Mass in C minor, K427

Monteverdi Choir [Consort Soloists: Katharine Fuge & Miriam Allan (sopranos), Jeremy Budd (tenor) & Matthew Brook (bass)]

English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 February, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

A Mozart marathon, one timed very precisely in Cadogan Hall’s brochure as lasting 2 hours 3 minutes (Cadogan’s website adding one minute to this). As it happens the music played for about 2 hours 1 minute and the add-on 20-minute interval was 29. The evening as a whole lasted 2 hours 45 minutes. Mere statistics and irrelevant as such; at best predictions of a concert’s length can only be approximate, especially in music attracting diverse approaches and when, as here, there are repeats to consider (on which more anon!).

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his choir and orchestra have been ‘on the road’ with Mozart to Europe and the States (adding the Requiem and 40th Symphony) and this final concert was something of a marathon, one carried out with unflagging dedication. Symphony 39 was consistently superb – from an imposing and unforced Adagio introduction to a lively and articulate finale. Throughout there was much to beguile the ear in the very particular timbres produced by the English Baroque Soloists. The romance of the slow movement was especially affecting, so too the stormier contrasts, and the Minuet was both regal and dance-like, the clarinet-led trio (with added decoration) especially winsome. In the finale, Gardiner observed both repeats, and made a strong case for doing so.

So why he didn’t follow a similar scheme in the finale of the Jupiter is curious. Not that repeats should be slavishly observed, but the finale’s second one is crucial in that there should be a powerful sense of growth to the five-part coda and the delaying of this by repeating the development adds to the sense of excitement. Gardiner sees it differently, and reasonably enough, except his swift speed, and peaking too soon and often, rather diminished this extraordinary movement’s sense of culmination, and with all other repeats taken (including that of the Andante cantabile) there was a structural imbalance across the whole. A shame, for the first movement strode forth with a militaristic confidence and gently contoured lyricism, and there was much to engross elsewhere.

An idea catching on, the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne has been doing this since last October, the symphonies were recorded and the CDs sold on the spot, the audience able to leave at the end of the concert with a well-produced disc for £10. A pity then that Cadogan Hall’s intrusive air-conditioning wasn’t turned off, for it was an unwanted presence in the Hall and remains evident on the recording, itself very well managed, save the perspective isn’t always quite what one hears in the Hall itself, and while the sound is undeniably lucid and vivid, the three left-positioned double basses seem further away than in actuality and there is the suspicion of added reverberation to a Hall that is notably immediate and unsullied. Away from the concert, the CD (on the “SDG On the Night” label, available through the link below, playing time 66’45”) plays perfectly well and sounds excellent and often with an immediacy that is certainly ‘real’, and with a terrific timpani tattoo to close the ‘Jupiter’. With some tactful editing between movements, a very professional product is the result and well worth investigating.

Originally the C minor Mass was advertised as the concert’s first half. With the curse that is hindsight, I’d rather have gone home with a recording of that. It’s a wonderful and less familiar work, and this performance was simply magnificent. Unfinished this Mass setting may be, but some of Mozart’s finest music is here, and the tireless Gardiner inspired his forces to a compelling performance and filled the Hall with glorious sounds. The solo singers came from the Monteverdi Choir and each sung from there – a healthy rebuttal of the ‘star singer’ nonsense in music bigger than any one person – and each was excellent, the two sopranos having most to do. There was some re-positioning of the choir (and orchestra members) during the work, no doubt to aid antiphonal aspects (already present in the orchestra with the division of violins), which was carried out with due efficiency (although having the contrived sight of Gardiner and his orchestra bowing simultaneously to acknowledge applause is an idea worth dropping!), and the performance as a whole was electric, with a buoyancy, power and dancing vitality that carried all before it, Mozart’s debt to Bach and Handel made clear. With microphones still present, maybe it was recorded?

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