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Mostly Mozart Festival: The arias that time forgot. Soloists / Academy of Ancient Music / Paul Daniel (conductor). Barbican Hall, London.  28.07.2006 (ED)


Geraldine McGreevy soprano
Amanda Roocroft soprano
Sarah Tynan soprano
Andrew Kennedy tenor
Christopher Purves bass
Mark Stone bass


This penultimate concert in the Barbican’s Mostly Mozart Festival, must have answered the prayers of music lovers that have long tired of hearing the same works over and over again. Unless one has recordings of Wolfgang’s concert arias on the shelves at home there’s a chance that most, possibly all, the items on the programme for this fully packed evening would have seemed relatively ‘new’ territory to explore. As Paul Daniel pointed out in his introduction to the evening, it is not that the music constitutes substandard Mozart – far from it – but that it is music he wrote on a daily basis for singers he admired that perhaps accounts for its relative obscurity nowadays. These insertion arias were often written to order for specific vocal gifts and they can often be perceived today in much the same way a symphony by Furtwängler or Klemperer is: worthy if a touch dull. This concert showed how misplaced that judgemental assessment can be.


The concert presented twenty arias, over a third of the insertion arias Mozart wrote. A number of ensemble pieces broke up the sequence of solo numbers and helped to show the variety of Mozart’s writing. They illustrated the need Mozart felt to turn his hand to Italian opera on his travels around the courts of Europe despite being a composer steeped in the Austro-German tradition. Despite this though it was clearly apparent that in these items Mozart often sowed the seeds for characters he would perfect in his own complete stage works. The seducing aristocrat, buffoon husband, innocent servant girl and wronged husband all put in cameo appearances. Two wholly Mozartian unfinished operatic projects were represented to good effect: Lo sposo deluso, a buffo farce, and L’oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose), which Daniel accurately if humorously termed something of ‘an operatic turkey’.


The selection of singers was of absolute importance to the success of the concert. The three sopranos illustrated the degree of nuance Mozart even at a precociously early age required from the vocal range. Geraldine McGreevy brought dramatic impetus to bear in her singing of Vado, ma dove, one of the most well known of Mozart’s insertion arias. Rich and evenly produced tone was the predominant feature of Amanda Roocroft’s contributions. One sensed that her voice is one that finds form more in the singing of Mozart than when subjected to the demands of other composers. Coloratura brilliance was all Sarah Tynan’s domain, and hers was the single most consistent contribution of the evening. Often filling the shoes of Aloysia Lange, arguably Mozart’s favourite soprano and one of superior skill, Tynan rose to the occasion in giving an account of Vorrei spiegarvi that possessed poise that was unafraid to yield to the despair the text contains. Beautifully shaped legato singing with a thread of voice found its twin in an elegiac oboe solo. Most impressive.


Andrew Kennedy showed his abilities at comic acting, conveying ignorance and stupidity with ease in Con ossequio, con rispetto. Christopher Purves seemed destined to spend the evening veering between the buffo and the petty aristocrat, both of which he was vocally at home with. Mark Stone, whom I had not previously thought of as terribly charismatic in terms of stage presence (it could be that I had not seen him in entirely suitable roles), left his mark with Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo. Composed as an alternative aria for Guglielmo in Cosí, it’s a coarse and insinuating number – and no wonder it was dropped in the end by Mozart himself – but Stone served it well in his wry humorous touches that took away some of its edge.


The final word though was Mozart’s, in a German aria that conveyed with very personal passion something of his thoughts on being a composer forced by circumstance to write outside his natural environment for the pleasure of others. Language, music, being and identity become inseparable in the world of opera, lest any performer or audience ever forget it.


Paul Daniel directed the Academy of Ancient Music from the keyboard and appeared to enjoy the experience immensely. Certainly he brought out much wonder in the arias themselves through sensitive accompaniment of all the singers. The AAM’s playing was finely graded and responsive to each item, if occasionally one might have liked a more intuitive inflection to individual lines. That no doubt would come with repeated playing of this music.  There’s no doubt that given the general standard of advocacy even Wolfgang’s lesser vocal compositions deserve greater attention than they often receive.


Evan Dickerson




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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)