Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Paul Goodwin/Academy of Ancient Music @ Wigmore Hall, London

11 December 2006

The Academy of Ancient Music’s December concert at the Wigmore Hall traced Mozart’s symphonic development from the age of nine to twenty three, by way of the motet Exsultate, jubilate and a linked work by the contemporary composer Thea Musgrave.

The Scottish-American’s composition Journey Into Light was written as a companion piece to the motet, and it clearly echoes its structure.

Intended by the composer as a homage to Mozart, it juxtaposes the F major outer movements with the D major inner, just as the motet does.

Exsultate, jubilate was the first of the two vocal works to be performed, with soprano Carolyn Sampson as soloist. This is the sort of repertoire she has proved herself in again and again, although at this performance she began with a rather throaty tone. The voice soon settled down though and, from the recitative on, she was singing as sweetly as we’ve come to expect, with a dazzling display of effortless coloratura.

After the interval, she returned as vocalist in the Musgrave piece. Full of dissonances, Journey Into Light seemed to be continually on the brink of lyricism, threatening to tumble into full-blown melody although this never quite happened. It is based on some quite obscure and difficult texts by sixteenth century writers, with a mix of Latin and Olde English. The theme is the promise of salvation after life’s dark passage and the work falls into three parts Lament, Prayer and Contemplation. The vocal lines were beautifully served by Sampson and showed the veteran composer, now in her late seventies, as worthy of the high-esteem she’s held in around the world.

Forming the centrepiece of the concert, these two works written a century and a half apart were bookended by three of Mozart’s symphonies. The first (F major K19a), from about 1765, and therefore one of the composer’s earliest works, was a nave and simple essay in the emergent form. This was followed immediately by the Symphony No. 17 in G major K129 of seven years later. What seems a short period for most of us showed a massive development in the boy genius’ style and this is a much more mature work, full of tunes that never quite took shape in the earlier one.

Following the two vocal works, the AAM, under the baton of Paul Goodwin, gave a lovely performance of the Symphony No. 33 in B flat major K319. This dates from 1779, so another seven years on and, again, the sense of progression was enormous, with a rich and complex first movement. By the standards of the earlier symphonies this was not an easy work and it must have tested his Salzburg audiences to the full. In fact, he complained to his father that “there is no stimulus for my talent! When I play or when any of my compositions is performed, it is just as if my audience were all tables and chairs”.

So, at the end of this 250th anniversary year, there is still room for exploration of Mozart’s genius and this concert shed some interesting light on his development, as well as casting a contemporary eye on one of his most popular works.

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