Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Coronation Mass in C, K 317 [24:48]
Ave verum corpus, K618 [3:12]
Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339 [26:52]
Laurence Kilsby (treble); Jeremy Kenyon (alto); Christopher Watson (tenor); Christopher Barrett (bass)
Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School
Charivari Agréable/Benjamin Nicholas
rec. 12-13 July 2011, Merton College Chapel, Oxford DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34102 [54:59]
Not long ago I reviewed a concert performance by these same forces of the Mozart Vespers. That event marked the launch of this new Delphian CD.
Surely a major factor in choosing the repertoire for this disc was the opportunity thereby presented to showcase the talent of the Tewkesbury choir’s leading treble, Laurence Kilsby. And why not? This is an exceptional voice but one that, in the nature of things, we won’t be able to enjoy - except through recordings - for much longer as his voice is bound to break before long. Only recently I reviewed another disc by the trebles of this choir and I remarked then not only on Laurence Kilsby’s rich, round tone but also on his musical maturity, uncommon, I would suggest, in one so young. He offers genuine interpretations of the music he sings and, moreover, there’s spontaneity in these interpretations.

He’s on similarly impressive form here, more than holding his own in the company of three good and experienced adult professional soloists. He has a ‘plum’ in each of the two major works. In the Mass setting he delivers the celebrated soprano solo in the Agnus Dei with distinction and with disarming freshness. Then in the Vespers he has the wonderful ‘Laudate Dominum’ movement - by some distance the musical highlight of the work. His singing of this gorgeous solo is every bit as impressive as it was in concert just a few weeks ago: he sings it characterfully and with great poise. His technique is very impressive, especially his breath control. Rightly, Benjamin Nicholas makes no concessions in the matter of tempo, letting the music flow at a nice, easy and expansive pace and Laurence has no problems with this. Here we have a genuine artist, showing a feeling for music that belies his years. I hope his interest in music will survive the breaking of his voice and that he’ll develop a comparably fine adult voice in due course.
The performance of the ‘Coronation’ Mass is characterised by energy and enthusiasm, which is appropriate for the music itself. Mozart doesn’t really attempt to plumb the depths in this work and many of the tempo indications are quick ones. Benjamin Nicholas adopts some lively speeds although he recognises the need for a bit more gravitas at such passages as ‘Et incarnatus est’ in the Credo. He doesn’t hang about in the Benedictus and my first impression was that the music sounded too hasty. However, a look at the score reminded me that the tempo indication is Allegretto and Nicholas’s tempo is not inconsistent with that. His solo quartet acquits itself well in this movement and elsewhere
The Vespers isn’t a particularly profound work either, though it’s an enjoyable one. Michael Nicholas, who contributes an extensive and very helpful booklet note, observes justly that Mozart doesn’t really probe the meaning of the texts in this work. In general the Tewkesbury choir’s account of the Vespers is confident and outgoing, though they do show good refinement in the ‘Laudate Dominum’ and elsewhere in the relatively few moments where Mozart pauses for reflection. Once again Benjamin Nicholas adopts tempi that are, for the most part, vigorous and he makes sure there’s good rhythmic vitality in the singing. Sometimes, perhaps, the music sounds a little unrelenting at these lively tempi but, frankly, that’s the fault of the composer, I think, and one certainly wouldn’t want stodgy speeds.
The accompaniment is provided by the Oxford-based period group, Charivari Agréable, whose unusual name is translated on their website as ‘pleasant tumult’. Apparently, it’s a term taken from a 1707 French treatise on accompaniment. At the concert performance of the Vespers I noted a certain thin quality to the string sound. Happily, that’s not the case here; perhaps they were in a less benign acoustic at the Cheltenham concert. I do feel, however, that their timpanist is consistently too prominent. That reservation apart, the playing is sprightly.
Unusually for Delphian, I have a reservation about the recorded sound. It’s as clear as one always experiences from this source. However, the recording is a bit up-front. One misses the sense of space and resonance around the performers such as one habitually gets from recordings of The Tallis Scholars in this same venue. But, of course, The Tallis Scholars is a much smaller ensemble. On this recording the choir numbers thirty-two and there are eighteen players in the band. I suspect that forces of this size rather strain the acoustics of Merton College Chapel to the limit. Perhaps a slightly larger venue might have produced more flattering results.
However, despite that reservation there’s a good deal to enjoy here. I don’t think this recording would be a library choice for either work but I don’t think anyone acquiring it will be seriously disappointed and the disc does offer the chance to hear the remarkable voice of Laurence Kilsby caught on the wing.
John Quinn  

A good deal to enjoy here, especially the remarkable treble voice of Laurence Kilsby.