1769 was, for Mozart, “unusually sparse” – as Ian Page explains in the programme for this 250th-anniversary retrospective – in that the significant parts of his output that year comprised three Serenades, two Masses, a couple of small-scale liturgical works, and perhaps the Symphony No.9. Not typical of the average thirteen-year-old in any age maybe, but if one had only heard the music by Wolfgang Amadeus performed in this concert it would not have been so obvious that here was an incipient genius, as was evident in some of the works he had already composed, and been performed by the Mozartists in this 250 series.
It was curious that the Symphony was not featured here, but rather a sequence of four movements extracted from the longer Cassation K63 (a middle-European term for a Serenade) to constitute a Symphony, as Mozart and other composers sometimes did to recycle their works. The music is efficient, if neither inspired nor profound, but Page found a breezy and boisterous charm in its outer movements, added to which was a brisk Minuet and a languid violin solo from Daniel Edgar in the Adagio.
Much of the programme’s remainder comprised vocal music from an array of composers, written for a variety of occasions and places. In Stratford-upon-Avon, David Garrick mounted a festival in honour of Shakespeare, for which Thomas Arne was invited to set an Ode to the playwright with words by Garrick. Not much of the score survives, and even then the accompaniment for what there is exists only for keyboard; for the two songs performed, Page provided an idiomatic orchestral arrangement. Chiara Skerath led off with the strophic ‘Thou soft flowing Avon’, tracing with suitable dignity its long meandering lines in a Rococo character that was falling behind fashion by 1769. In contrast ‘Tho’ crimes from death and torture fly’ could almost be a rage aria from a Handel opera, and was declaimed with ample gravitas by James Newby.
He inhabited and acted the part in three other diverse extracts winningly, fully justifying his recent selection as a BBC New Generation Artist, and surely heralding a bright future. ‘Vengapur’ from Paisiello’s opera based on Cervantes, Don Chisciotte della Mancia, features a stealthy tread as Sancho Panza dupes his master, and Newby demonstrated a Figaro-like wit. In a comic aria from Haydn’s opera Le pescatrici he skilfully combined humour, mock heroism, and self-reflection, whilst Moses’s prayer ‘Gott, sieh dein Volk’ from C. P. E. Bach’s Oratorio, Die Israeliten in der Wüste’, called forth a sustained piety and concentration that presages Elijah.
Skerath made two further contributions, both requiring – and receiving – more extended and dazzling display than the Arne number. The concert aria ‘Cara, se le mi epene’ does not appear in the Köchel catalogue of Mozart’s works, and is only known from a copy discovered in the 1960s. It drew a warm and elegant sonority from the orchestra, underpinning a radiant vocal melody from Skerath, only slightly ruptured by her not quite carrying over with sufficient conviction its coloratura lines across the musical caesuras. No such problems beset the sparkling and energetic account of ‘Nocchierche in mezzo all’onde’ from Aristeo, the second of a three-part operatic festivity compiled by Gluck for the marriage of Duke Ferdinand of Parma to Maria Amalia, the Archduchess of Austria, reverting to the histrionic forms of Baroque opera, despite the inclusion of a revision of Orfeo as its third part.
In this tercentenary year of the birth of Mozart’s father, Leopold, it was fitting to include some music by him, even if only the first movement from the ‘Neue Lambach’ Symphony (a gift by him, alongside a Symphony by his son also, to the monastery at Lambach). It was given a crisp and spirited performance by the strings, but more earthy humour shone through with the rasping horns. The latter are also prominent in Haydn’s Symphony No.48, called ‘Maria Theresa’, by virtue of the fact that it was performed on the occasion of a visit by the Empress to Esterháza in 1773, but now understood to have been composed originally in 1769. This was a rather routine performance, with the horns not accurate enough to make it either magisterial or thrilling, despite another brisk Minuet (even though only marked Allegretto) and an otherwise rightly fizzing Finale.
Young Wolfgang was a fairly slight presence in this latest instalment of the Mozart 250 project then, but it was a fascinating exploration.