Coronation Anthem: Zadok the Priest
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Te Deum, K141
Canzona noni toni
Sonata pian e forte
Te Deum in D (Dettingen)
Nicholas Carpenter (basset clarinet)
Graeme Broadbent (bass)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 30 March, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Stephen Layton is impressive. I had the sense of his being an agent for the composers – reproducing the music underlying the score, in surefooted and faithful performances. Layton’s deep consideration and unassuming professionalism brought efficient and living performances.
The instrumental playing and the singing were of exceptional vitality, with lyricism and attack producing a galvanising eloquence. The London Philharmonic Choir was as much concerned to produce focussed animated sound as to purvey mellifluous beauty. The instrumentalists’ commitment was also fully engaged and alert. Layton took assiduous, steady care of the performances, overseeing their smooth running. He had the performers’ respect and he let them have their head – a freedom that also met Layton’s demands.
The two Gabrieli pieces shone brilliantly. They celebrated the notion of treating the brass (here, trombones and trumpets) as voices in their own right, in the manner of a choir. With utterly appropriate blare and bite, we heard loud and soft sonorities alternating and key changes moving us from ominous, dark-hued foreboding to resplendent joy.
Mozart’s concerto was originally written for basset clarinet. Larger and heavier than the modern instrument, it has a lower range. As Nicholas Carpenter so brilliantly and expertly displayed, the basset has a rich, round sonority enabling it to outclass a modern instrument in terms of warm, luxurious sound. The overall pace was light, crisp and dignified – a performance of aristocratic ease, giving ample time to take nonchalant relish in the casual virtuosity of Mozart’s delicious runs, as well as to exhibit with commendable restraint and poise all those famed, elegant melodies of Mozart’s maturity. Firmly, and despite eschewing dogmatic ‘authenticity’, Stephen Layton kept this music firmly within the bounds of Enlightenment sensibility. The “Te Deum”, a work of Mozart’s youth, was similarly uplifting and crisp.
The programme began and ended with Handel. “Zadok the Priest” celebrates King George II’s coronation and the “Te Deum” celebrates the military victory at Dettingen, the last occasion when a British monarch led his troops into battle. “Zadok the Priest” is practically fail-safe (even a limp performance is rousing); here, however, Stephen Layton showed mastery – the anthem was fiery and glorious. The “Te Deum” shone with a special, variegated lustre. Each section was sonically distinct and a delight as Layton moved swiftly and deftly from woodwind pastoral chatter to brass triumphalism, and from the lower strings’ agile trotting to the surging, soaring upper strings releasing praise into the ether. The choir responded no less – female voices alone, male voices alone, choral delicacy and dexterity and massed choral strength: strong, plangent, alive and vitally rhythmic, exuberant and glorifying. The singers’ attack – and also their smoothness – was a joy to hear. In such company, Graeme Broadbent only just shone. His pleasing, light bass was, however, sensitive to Handel’s style.
Mozart wrote: “Handel understood effect better than any of us – when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt”. The excitement, splendour, instrumental vigour and calibre of this performance caused me to understand why Sir William Walton regarded himself as being in Handel’s debt when writing “Belshazzar’s Feast”. The future was hinted at – and rejoiced.