OAE/Mackerras Mozart

Le nozze di Figaro – Overture; Al desio di chi t’adora
Don Giovanni – Batti, batti, o bel Masetto
Rondo in A for piano and orchestra, K386
Ch’io me scordi di te, K505
Il re pastore – L’amero, sarò costante
Serenade in D, K320 (Posthorn)

Rebecca Evans (soprano)

Susan Tomes (piano)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 25 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

A belated 80th-birthday concert for Sir Charles Mackerras and no let-up on his part as the ‘Figaro’ overture demonstrated, a high-voltage reading which positively reeked of the opera house (Mackerras is truly a man of the theatre) and also notable for the subtlety of the joins and the wonderfully conspiratorial sotto voce opening. The Figaro ‘insertion’ aria found in Rebecca Evans an ideal interpreter, her voice intertwining with the creamy basset horns of Antony Pay and Jane Booth. Evans has a near-perfect Mozart voice, lustrous and smooth throughout its register: at once riveting and charismatic. The operatic theme continued with “Don Giovanni”, Zerlina being a role Evans has sung in San Francisco and at the Met. Her take on the aria was wonderfully knowing and sly but without the ‘arch’ approach which can sometimes disfigure this aria. There was a fine cello solo from David Watkins.

The Rondo has clear affinities with the nearly contemporary same-key concerto (K414) and may have originally been intended as its finale. The Rondo is pleasant undemanding music, galant. Playing on a fortepiano Susan Tomes brought to it a light touch, taking care not to make more of it than is actually there and the OAE accompanied with tact and discretion.

“Ch’io mi scordi di te”, almost a love poem from Mozart to the London-born Nancy Storace who was the first Susanna in ‘Figaro’. Unusually Mozart wrote himself into the picture with an extended piano part. This highly demanding concert aria encompasses extremes of drama and lyricism. Evans caressed the ear like warm velvet but also demonstrated a real lower register to the voice – suitably since the text is modelled on the male role of Idamante – whilst Susan Tomes’s fortepiano, easily audible, provided the perfect counterfoil.

The seven movements of the ‘Posthorn’ Serenade can outstay their welcome. Not here though, Mackerras never forgetting that this outdoor music probably written for performance in one of Salzburg’s small squares and, with celebratory trumpets and very present timpani, the outer movements fizzed along. Mackerras’s extraordinary success was also due to the five inner movements being given their full character – two minuets bookend an Andante grazioso, a Rondeau and an Andantino. In the wrong hands they can drag; here with delicious, cooing flute solos from Lisa Beznosiuk and the plangent oboe of Anthony Robson these movements passed in a flash, whilst there was profundity at a flowing tempo in the Andantino. Hats off also to David Blackadder’s hilariously ripe posthorn solo in the second Minuet (‘hats on’ actually since he donned appropriately rustic headgear for his role).

Before being serenaded there had been yet more gloriously poised singing from Rebecca Evans in the brief aria in praise of constancy from “Il re pastore” – but the evening rightly belonged to Sir Charles.

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