Opera + Classical Music Reviews

OAE/Mackerras @ Royal Festival Hall, London

13 November 2008

What looked like a random selection of Mozart arias and overtures on paper, turned out to be an educational master class from Sir Charles Mackerras on how the two most famous arias from Le Nozze di Figaro are linked to other lesser-known works by the composer, including a 10-minute symphony.

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

One would never had guessed that the six items which made up the first half of this intriguing concert would have much in common apart from the fact they were all penned by Mozart, but rather than plough through them and rely on the programme notes to fill in the gaps, Sir Charles Mackerras gave us an erudite, educational and fascinating commentary from the podium. Following a buoyant, vivacious and wonderfully effervescent reading of the overture from Le Nozze di Figaro, Sir Charles informed us that the reason Rebecca Evans was going to begin by singing the Agnus Dei from the Mass in C (Coronation) was because it shared the same tune as Dove Sono, but was in 3-4 time.

Following this, the Welsh soprano gave a ravishing account of the Countess’ aria which contained the vocal embellishments which Mozart had actually written into the repeat section of the Agnus Dei ‘because the soprano who originally sang the role wasn’t very musical’. No such fears here as Evans gave notice that she will be a formidable Countess, having moved upstairs as it were from Susanna’s quarters, in the WNO’s forthcoming production. In order to give our Diva a rest, we were then treated to a real-rarity, Mozart’s Symphony 32. In fact we were told that it was more of an overture than a symphony yet its ten minutes were jam-packed with creative invention.

Suitably rested, and with a change of dress Evans reprised her more familiar role of Susanna, and was truly bewitching in a limpid account of Al desio di chi t’adora. Mozart had originally planned a rondo for Susanna Non tardar amato bene, but wrote only 36 bars before abandoning it and the aria which replaced it Deh vieni non tardar was a later substitution. The impetus behind the rondo was to allow the leading female singer some vocal fireworks, so we were lucky to get a flavour of what Mozart may have had in mind as Sir Charles had reimagined the rondo for this concert. Evans didn’t disappoint and provided a fitting climax to what had been a highly unusual, yet wonderfully illuminating first half.

After the interval the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment took centre stage for a vivacious, scrupulously detailed and stirringly played account of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. From the playful opening theme it was clear that under Sir Charles Mackerras’ lithe baton that this was going to be a performance to cherish. One can’t overestimate how refreshing it is to hear Beethoven played on original instruments, at the correct tempo and with such unbridled joy. The picture-painting which Beethoven evokes was nowhere more vivid than in the thunderous storm in the fourth movement which was unleashed with terrific force, with timpani, horns and trumpets giving the kind of visceral thrill that modern instruments simply can’t match. Is a Beethoven cycle with Mackerras and the OAE too much to hope for? This concert is broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday 19 November at 7pm.

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