Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Arcangelo bring touches of Salzburg and Eisenstadt for their final residency concert

31 May 2022

Haydn and Mozart shine at the Wigmore Hall.


Arcangelo (Photo: Ben Tomlin)

For their fourth concert of their Wigmore Hall residency, Arcangelo opted to present a programme of Mozart and Haydn, and opened with a cracking performance of Mozart’s evergreen Exsultate, jubilate in which soprano Carolyn Sampson unleashed all the nuances of her magnificent voice, from a creamy tenderness for ‘Tu virgnum corona’ to some powerful bell-like resonance in the ‘Alleluja’ section.

Next up was Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai, a pastoral missa brevis composed for his patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s name day in Advent 1772. The mass is a staple of professional church choirs for festal occasions, but it’s a rare beast in the concert hall. Under Jonathan Cohen’s economical direction from the harpsichord, the band and eight voice choir gave it a good account, full of dynamic contrast (the echoed phrasing between upper and lower voice parts in the Kyrie, and some impressive diminuendi on ‘laudamus te…’ in the Gloria). Haydn distributed many of the words of the Credo simultaneously across the parts, making the whole thing shorter, leaving time for him to concentrate on the suspension laden ‘et incarnatus/crucifixus’, to which the performers gave full attention, bringing out all of its yearning qualities. Although the account would have embellished a liturgical occasion, somehow, one wanted a little more pzazz from a concert performance – something more redolent of Eisenstadt – and it was perhaps the choir that didn’t supply this. There was nothing wrong with the singing and musicality – a pleasantly blended sound with attention paid to tone and dynamic. But it was unmistakably (with its default Italianate pronunciation) the sound of British trained choral singers ‘doing generic Classical-era church music’.

“…the band and eight voice choir gave it a good account…”


Jonathan Cohen (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

The star of the show was undoubtedly Haydn’s 26th symphony in D minor, to which Arcangelo brought a consummate understanding of the period’s dynamic contrasts, tempi and textures, and some outstanding playing. The work was an early experiment in minor key Sturm und Drang, and while Haydn did his best to summon melodramatic melancholy (christening the symphony, on account of its Passiontide resonances, ‘Lamentatione’), his sunny nature couldn’t help but shine through (amply abetted by Arcangelo) in the little mannered echo responses and ‘tiptoes’ from cello and bass in the first movement and the charming wandering bass and stately oboe (and, eventually, horn) lines of the second. Even the funereal chords of the final ‘Menuetto and Trio’ were charmingly offset by the violins’ flowery finishing phrases.

It’s difficult to believe that an eleven year old could write a short oratorio for two solo voices and orchestra in a Baroque style, filling it full of airy elegance, and requiring some impressive but tuneful agility from both the baritone (‘the soul’) and the soprano (‘the angel’). The Prince Archbishop of Salzburg didn’t believe it either, and supposedly locked the young Mozart in a room for a week while he wrote such a piece: Grabmusik. Carolyn Sampson was joined by Ashley Riches to present a delightful exploration of this example of Mozart’s precocious talent, Riches’ resonance and edge throughout his impressive range contrasting well with Sampson’s sweetness, both of them accompanied with poise and subtlety by the band (the almost Ländler feel to the duet from the strings and horns was especially lovely). The choral coda was added by Mozart eight years later, and one wishes that neither Mozart nor the performers had bothered. It’s essentially a two verse, mostly homophonic, hymn, full of Mozart’s characteristic stylistic tropes. Nice enough, and well performed, but it’s too leaden, and detracts from the buoyant quality of the rest of the work – akin to taking a child’s artwork off the fridge door and putting it in a gilt frame.

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