Sumi Jo, Academy of Ancient Music & Richard Egarr at Cadogan Hall – Mozart

Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Marten aller Arten
Thamos, King of Egypt – Entr’actes
Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio, K418
Masonic Funeral Music, K477
Idomeneo – Se il padre perdei
Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (Paris)
No, no, che non sei capace, K419

Sumi Jo (soprano)

Academy of Ancient Music
Richard Egarr

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 25 November, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall

This Mozart concert by the Academy of Ancient Music and its Music Director Richard Egarr offered a welcome, one-night only, chance for a UK audience to hear South Korean soprano Sumi Jo. One-time protégé of Herbert von Karajan, her career blossomed in the 1990s, playing roles around the globe – including Adina in L’elisir d’amore and Elvira in I puritani at Covent Garden.

Hers is not a vast sprawling voice, so it is very well suited to Mozart (The Queen of the Night was a role with which she first made her name), and this concert amply demonstrated her Mozartean affinity. From her opening notes in ‘Marten aller Arten’ from Die Entführung, her creamy tone and powerful but subtle delivery were instantly impressive. Some of the highest notes are not as secure as they once were, but she carries them off with assuredness nonetheless; and her coloratura knocks the spots off many a younger singer. Her aura was also immediately arresting: a sweeping entrance in a flowing, sparkly creation, and holding the audience’s gaze absolutely: a real diva in the best sense.

Egarr and the AAM supplied crisp and vivid support. Especially delightful were the characterfully delivered solos in ‘Marten aller Arten’, and in the charming ‘Se il padre perdei’ from Idomeneo. Sumi Jo shone in the exquisite Vorrei spiegarvi (written in 1783 for Mozart’s sister-in-law Aloysia Lange’s appearance in a Vienna performance of Pasquale Anfossi’s Il curioso indescreto) – over delicious pizzicatos her supremely fluid cantabile line floated like gossamer. The programme ended with her most impressive display, delivered with stunning intensity.

Surrounding the vocal numbers were a generally well-planned collection of complimentary Mozart pieces, mostly from the same early Viennese period. The four entr’actes from Thamos, King of Egypt feature some exciting “Sturm und Drang” passages of a type usually associated with Haydn; Egarr and company greatly relished the dramatic opportunities. Their ‘Paris’ Symphony was big and bold, and similarly strong on dynamic contrasts – the finale was a riot of rasping horns, blazing trumpets and thundering timpani. The second half began with an intense account of the Masonic Funeral Music. Only the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro failed to convince, either in the context of the programme (surely the Overture to Idomeneo would have been more appropriate) or as a performance – lumpen in feel and with shaky ensemble, it got the concert off to an unsteady start.

The main attraction was Sumi Jo – who didn’t disappoint by giving two encores: a heartfelt rendition of Pamina’s ‘Ach, ich fuhls’ from The Magic Flute followed by a dazzling display of virtuosity in Adolphe Adam’s Variations on ‘Ah, vous dirai-je maman’ (Twinkle twinkle little star) featuring sumptuous duetting with solo flute (played with terrific dexterity by Rachel Brown). Sumi Jo relaxed into this in a way that she hadn’t earlier – playfully coquettish and clearly enjoying herself. The ease with which she handled the stratospheric coloratura produced some of the best singing of the night: a real treat, ending a splendid evening.

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