Mozart & Mackerras

Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Mass in C minor, K427 [completed by Robert D. Levin; UK premiere of this version]

Rosemary Joshua & Sarah Fox (sopranos)
Eric Cutler (tenor)
Nathan Berg (bass-baritone)

Choir of the Enlightenment

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 8 September, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A Proms season in which Mozart features so prominently would not be complete without the presence of Sir Charles Mackerras, whose insights into this most ubiquitous of classical composers are as far-reaching as they are enduring.

If the ‘Haffner’ that opened this concert offered no actual revelations, the unbridled energy of the outer movements (the first without an exposition repeat, which seems to be the stance of the latest Critical Edition), the elegance of the Andante and the amiability of the Minuet demonstrated an ease with this most imposing symphony from Mozart’s early maturity – as well as an unforced deployment of period practice – that few other conductors could hope to rival.

The rest of the concert was devoted to the Mass in C minor – the work Mozart planned in celebration of his marriage to Constanze Weber, but then broke off in 1783 with the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Benedictus’ only drafted, and the second half of the ‘Credo’ and the whole of the ‘Agnus Dei’ not even begun. Theories asto why he abandoned it have been even more numerous than completions of the torso, and Robert D. Levin’s recent attempt (premiered in New York early last year and now recorded by Helmut Rilling) is among the first (and certainly the most systematic) realisations to be made in accordance with Mozart’s musical idiom of the period.

In this, Levin has been aided by the existence of the sacred cantata “Davidde penitente” (1785) – in which Mozart reworked much of the Mass, and whose original music has provided the basis for two of the missing sections: the eloquent tenor aria ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ (near the end of the ‘Credo’) and the sombrefirst half of the ‘Agnus Dei’, both being among the most successful portions of this completion. Those composed anew are perhaps less so – with the fugal intricacy of ‘Crucifixus’ too close to an academic exercise to succeed in context, and the ensuing ‘Et resurrexit’ a little too contrived in its recourse to contrapuntal techniques that Mozart himself had utilised rather more intuitively. Nor does ‘Et unam sanctum’ have quite the gravitas needed at this point – though ‘Et vitam venturi’, in its looking back, motif-wise, to the ‘Kyrie’, provides a conclusive end to the ‘Credo’ and also a formal ‘marker’ satisfying in its coherence. Even more convincing in this respect is Levin’s realisation of ‘Dona nobis pacem’, so achieving a thoughtful elation whose suitability (at least) Mozart would surely have acknowledged.

At 75 minutes, Mackerras’s reading was measured enough to evoke that sense of the monumental inherent in the work’s conception, yet also sufficiently incisive to ensure that its overall momentum never wavered. Rosemary Joshua was effortlessly in control of some of Mozart’s technically most exacting vocal writing (though without quite achieving the sublime assurance of Laura Aitkin in David Robertson’s superb account at the Barbican last January) – and if Sarah Fox (replacing Lisa Milne at short notice) was less commanding in the admittedly not so demonstrative second-soprano part, she was never less than attuned in her response; she and Joshua dovetailing their phrases to exquisite effect in ‘Dominus Deus, Rex caelestis’.

At times a little too operatic in expression, Eric Cutler still contributed a finely sustained ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’, and Nathan Berg made his sonorous presence felt in the ‘Benedictus’ and ‘Dona nobis pacem’ – enriching the ensemble accordingly.

The Choir of the Enlightenment was on fine form throughout: no more so than in an exhilarating ‘Credo in unum Deum’, where Levin’s filling-out of texture proved only marginally less impressive than his re-scoring of the ‘Hosanna’ for eight parts – thus bringing out an expressive breadth surely inherent in Mozart’s music.

Even as a torso, the C minor Mass is an impressive synthesis of Baroque intricacy and Classical poise. Heard in Levin’s completion, it more clearly anticipates the ‘solemn masses’ of Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner – and, as such, fully deserved the advocacy conveyed by Mackerras.

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