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Mozart: Serenade no. 9 in D (‘Posthorn’) – Beethoven: Mass in C, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, cond. Sir Colin Davis, Sally Matthews (soprano), Sara Mingardo (alto), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Alastair Miles (bass), Barbican Hall, 26.2 2006. (ME)


This concert, recorded for future release on ‘LSO Live’ was part of the UBS Choral Masterworks series, but it was the purely instrumental work which provided the evening’s more remarkable performance. The ‘Posthorn’ is one of those often forgettably played serenades, written to commemorate the jollifications surrounding the end of Salzburg’s academic year, the year in question in this case being 1779. Colin Davis and the LSO made a powerful case for the work’s serious quality, especially in the wonderful solos for flute and the remarkable third movement. It was the Andantino, however, which gave the most intense pleasure, its minor key melancholy so finely contrasting with the more brittle and sprightly Rondeau and Minuets: the woodwind, particularly the bassoon, acquitted themselves wonderfully in the latter, and that coachman’s horn, when it finally made its individual mark, was played with just the right amount of swagger.


Beethoven’s Mass in C major languishes in the shadow of the ‘Missa Solemnis,’ so it was good to hear it being given so prominent a performance: although it is not ‘unbearably ridiculous and detestable’ as its patron opined, Beethoven did indeed treat the text ‘in a manner in which it has rarely been treated,’ especially by comparison to the more uplifting style of Haydn. The chorus began the Kyrie with the appropriate sense of a rumble from the primeval deep, but after this the problem was that they were simply too loud for this subtle, restrained music. The soloists had problems of their own, in that the were placed far too close together – presumably owing to the constraints of recording – and the tenor and bass seemed uncharacteristically nervous, frequently turning towards the conductor for cues. There was some lovely singing here, however, especially from Sara Mingardo, whose genuine contralto voice falls on the ear with such a sweet surprise – her Qui tollis peccata Mundi was the highlight of the evening – and from John Mark Ainsley whose beautiful tone at ‘Filius Patris’ and in the ‘et incarnatus est’ made up for some slightly strained notes elsewhere.


The soprano Sally Matthews has a very rich voice although I found her tone a bit too ample here, and Alastair Miles seemed rather subdued. It was perhaps under-rehearsal which might account for the less than perfect choral balance in the Gloria, and the sometimes woolly sound in the Credo. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were, however, respectively as dramatic and quietly intense as could be desired. The instrumental quality was once again sublime, with special mention merited by the horns at dona nobis pacem. A fine, if slightly flawed performance overall: somehow I can’t imagine that this recording will eclipse the classic Giulini one though – the latter is paired with the ‘Missa Solemnis,’ and has Janet Baker and Heather Harper amongst the soloists.




Melanie Eskenazi   




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