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Mozart: orchestral and operatic music: Orchestra Of Opera North/Janusz, Ripon Cathedral, 21 May (JL)

There was a full house at Ripon Cathedral for this varied exhibition of Mozart’s mature art. The second half served up a mix of arias and duets from three of the late, great operas complete with their well known overtures whereas the first half provided meat with a complete performance of the composer’s symphonic swan song, the Jupiter.

In these days, when a new recording of this symphony is quite likely to be played with a slimmed down band on original instruments producing a lean, presumed C18th sound, a performance like this one, with a modern orchestra playing in a fulsomely spacious acoustic, is going to sound, paradoxically, “old fashioned”. This is of little consequence as long as the spirit of the music is served. The conductor, Janusz, certainly enabled this, steering the players on an inexorable journey from the grand statement of the opening movement through the sometimes troubled beauty of the andante and on to the fiery finale with an absolutely sure sense of pace. The last movement is a miracle of composition; a musical roller-coaster where Mozart supplies half a dozen different melodic ideas and proceeds to push them in all directions, turning them upside down, making them go backwards and combining them in a dizzy whirl of counterpoint. The feeling of danger builds as the possibility of going off the rails increases. At this point, somewhere in the Cathedral there came the sound of smashing glass, which, rather than break the spell, added an appropriate frisson to the proceedings. Everything comes together at the very end in a triumphant conclusion and we end our roller coaster ride – against all the odds – still in one piece. Janusz understands this music, vigorously conveying the excitement to the players and onward to the audience but at the same time keeping a firm grip on the overall shape of the work.

Opera North’s Orchestra was more on home ground in the operatic second half – although you would not know that from its fine rendering of the Symphony. The vocal numbers were carried by two up-and-coming, aspiring opera singers. Baritone James Harrison entered into the spirit of roles such as Figaro and Papageno with confident stage presence and voice to match. He is a natural Mozartian. Soprano Martene Grimson, her blond hair strikingly offset by a bright red, full length dress, took time to settle down but both singers ended a splendid evening with a delightful rendering of the witty Papageno/Papagena duet from The Magic Flute where the characters celebrate their new found love with speculation about producing little Papagenos and Papagenas.

Arranged by the organisers of the upcoming Ripon International Festival in September, this concert was a foretaste of things to come when there will be a welcome chance to hear Janusz conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in, among other things, Mahler’s expansive First Symphony, a work that should come into its own in the vaulted spaciousness of Ripon Cathedral.

John Leeman

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)