BBC Proms reviews

Prom 17: Collegium Musicum 90/Hickox – Schubert and Hummel @ Royal Albert Hall, London

25 July 2007

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

Some classical works are best heard late at night – and Schubert’s final setting of the Mass is one of them.

It is slowly but surely earning its place alongside the better known late works – the string quintet, the piano sonatas, the Schwanengesang, for its music is every bit as personal.

The rejection of outright solo roles and virtuosity is intriguing, meaning a successful performance has to concentrate on the overall sentiment.

The harmonic daring and the contrary word settings are vital to bring out: they can prove elusive, but Richard Hickox found the hidden depths in this memorably ‘authentic’ performance. The tension between words and music are startling for their time, and nowhere more so than the Gloria, where after an arresting start Hickox placed great emphasis on the intervention by the three trombones, signalling an altogether darker Domine Deus.

The Credo, too, was a long way short of declamatory, with the restless ‘tap tap’ of David Stirling’s timpani setting the edgy mood. This was quelled somewhat by a brief yet moving exchange between tenors Mark Padmore and James Gilchrist, the first moment of genuine soloistic activity in the work. Hickox kept them well within themselves, seating them in front of the choir and thus heightening the overall effect.

The thirty-five strong chorus of the Collegium Musicum sang in a Germanic Latin, and with a great sense of perspective throughout, explicit in the impressive Amen with which the Credo draws toward a close, or the anguish in which the Agnus Dei finds itself. Often, E flat major is a wonderfully affirmative key – take Beethoven’s Eroica symphony and Emperor piano concerto as examples of that – but here Hickox took pains to stress the harmonic threats posed by Schubert to this security. The horn in the middle of the Kyrie texture, and those trombones again, with Philip Dale, Emily White and Adrian France the understated stars of the show.

The Albert Hall’s unpredictable acoustic meant a variable quality of delivery from the soloists, with Matthew Rose in particular difficult to place. Susan Gritton suffered a little in Hummel’s offertory Alma Virgo, though it was sung in great clarity along with James Eastaway‘s oboe.

As ever with Hummel this piece was strong on melody, left relatively undeveloped here in a charming and sprightly antecedent to the Schubert. The Schubert it was that left the lasting impact however, and as the final rest was reached Hickox bowed his head briefly before the applause began – an appropriate gesture.

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Prom 17: Collegium Musicum 90/Hickox – Schubert and Hummel @ Royal Albert Hall, London