Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART(1756-1791)
Mass in C, K 317, Coronation (1779) [24:48]
Ave verum corpus, K618 (1791) [3:12]
Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339 (1780) [26:52]
Laurence Kilsby (treble); Jeremy Kenyon (alto); Christopher Watson (tenor); Christopher Borrett (bass)
Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School
Charivari Agréable/Benjamin Nicholas
rec. 12-13 July 2011, Merton College Chapel, Oxford
Texts and translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34102 [54:59]
Thirty-two singers are listed in the booklet accompanying this disc, of whom eighteen are trebles. They are pupils at Dean Close Preparatory School in Cheltenham, and they join with the adults to sing the weekday evensong services at Tewksbury Abbey. Charivari Agréable are a period instrument group based in Oxford.
A little more than a year separates the composition of the two principal works on this disc. Mozart’s early life is dominated by travelling, but these works were composed during a two-year period when the composer was in Salzburg in service to the Archbishop, a situation he found increasingly frustrating. The short, celebrated Ave verum corpus was composed in the very last year of his life when he was visiting his wife and son who were staying in the spa town of Baden.
The performance of the Mass is an exuberant one. The energy level rarely dips in this work, and these performers respond with enthusiasm. There seems no question that the young singers are thoroughly enjoying themselves, but I think rather more in the way of variety of dynamics should have been expected of them. Mozart is either forte or piano, but forte is at least that here, and often rather more, whereas indications of piano are not always respected to the letter. I felt this particularly at the opening of the Sanctus, where the forthright attack is rather unwelcome after the rather relentless Credo. It is all superbly sung, though, and if you like your Mozart like this, and the idea of an all-male choir appeals, there is certainly no reason to hesitate.
Careful control of pace and phrasing is necessary if Ave verum corpus is not to become marmoreal. This performance is again beautifully sung and manages to stay on the right side of the line. I can’t in all honesty say the same about the famous “Laudate Dominum” in the K339 Vespers, as the tempo is really too slow and the phrasing rather too affectionate, with something of a tendency to hold back at the ends of phrases. This is the moment, however, to draw attention to the remarkable treble soloist, Laurence Kilsby. He has a beautiful voice and his singing is highly expressive and musical. One notes, too, especially in the “Laudate Dominum”, his outstanding breath control. Something of a pity, then, that he sings with quite a pronounced vibrato when there is not of trace of this in the introductory violin melody. The remaining, adult, soloists are very fine too, though vibrato remains a problem, if only because of the discrepancy in style between the vocal participants and the instrumental ensemble. (I have no problem, personally, with vibrato in Mozart.) Otherwise, the performance of the Vespers follows pretty much the same pattern as that of the Mass, with both its strong points and its weaker ones. There really is more light and shade in Mozart’s choral writing than is in evidence here, and the effect sometimes becomes tiring. The recording is very immediate and vivid, with the quartet of soloists well forward, which rather exacerbates this. But there are many wonderful moments. These performers’ way with the word “saeculorum”, for example, just before the final “Amens” of the second movement “Confitebor”, is only one example of singing that it quite seductive and totally convincing. Overall, though, the singing has a few rough edges compared to that of the Mass, unsurprising as it is a more difficult work.
Benjamin Nicholas is Director of Choral Music at Dean Close Preparatory School, and keen-eyed readers will spot that he is also jointly responsible, with Peter Phillips, for the outstandingly fine choir at Merton College, Oxford, whose first recording, entitled “In the Beginning”, was recently released, also on Delphian. Charivari Agréable play splendidly, and seem at one with the conductor’s view of the works.
William Hedley

see also review by John Quinn
Outstandingly fine performances of three Mozart choral works from these young musicians, but more light and shade would have been welcome.