This varied confection successfully continued “Mozart 250”, here celebrating the music of 1768. The Mozartists is the name used by Classical Opera when presenting orchestral concerts, the number of musicians varies according to requirements.
1768 was at the height of the Sturm und Drang period, usually applied to Haydn’s music, but at the time this striking philosophy became evident in all the arts. Haydn’s ‘Lamentatione’ Symphony forcefully represents this style and Ian Page took a suitably furious pace for the opening movement, ‘period’-horns fiercely enhancing the drama. The essential continuo was played by Steven Devine (H. C. Robbins Landon has suggested that the harpsichord represents the whipping of Christ before his crucifixion). The Adagio was a thing of great beauty with James Eastaway’s oboe serenely intoning the wonderful plainchant melody on which the movement is based. The firmly-presented dark Minuet finishes the work with an atmosphere of incompleteness – surely Haydn’s intention.
The Jommelli aria is from the opera Fetonte notable for its extravagant staging including an earthquake, a battle and Phaeton driving his chariot across the skies but the lyrical aria sung with the greatest elegance by Chiara Skerath in admirable (and vibrato-free) style provided repose after the challenging Symphony.
A similar calmness was evoked by J. C. Bach’s melodious Flute Concerto played expressively by Katy Bircher, music that represents the more-suave side of the era and it may well have been performed at the Bach/Abel concerts which were being presented in London at this time. Gentility was the essence of this reading with a delightful dance-like lift given to the closing Allegretto.
Further operatic excerpts followed and two contrasting examples came from Haydn’s Lo speziale. The first incorporates a gracious melody despite the words being about threatening to kill a love-rival, while the delightfully comical second (sung in deliberately awful Italian) gave Skerath the opportunity to characterise the drollery of the piece. Preceded by the three-part Overture to La finta semplice (I‘m not sure that the pauses between sections were necessary) ‘Amoretti, che ascosi qui siete’ found Rosina pleading to be spared the pains of love. Haase approached Piramo e Tisbe not as the farce that Shakespeare made of it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but as a dark tragedy (none of the main characters survive); however the chosen aria gives no such indication: listen without attending to the words and this mellifluous music is warm and beautiful as so graciously sung by Skerath.
The concert closed with one of Vanhal’s two D-minor Symphonies, notable for the inclusion of four horns with flutes, oboe and continuo. The Mozartists members added an appropriate rawness of sound to this, a truly Sturm und Drang work. Page interpreted the music swiftly and unrelentingly in a manner reminiscent of a notable recording by Concerto Köln. Vanhal constructs his compositions in a manner worthy of Haydn even though the themes are not always as inspirational as those of that great master; however, this is a notable piece worthy of wider recognition. The vehemence with which the Finale was driven represented a fitting tribute to the philosophy of the age which this programme sought to illustrate.