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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Litaniae Laurentanae in D major, KV 195 [32:55]
Litanae de venerabili altaris sacramento in E flat major, KV 243 [37:09]
Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), Nancy Evans (contralto), William Herbert (tenor), George James (bass), Ralph Downes (organ)
The St. Anthony Singers
Boyd Neel Orchestra/Anthony Lewis
rec. 1954, London
ELOQUENCE 482 5041 [70:12]
Scenes and Arias
Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Scena di Berenice “Berenice, che fai?” Hob XXIVa:10 [14:05]
Missa Santca Caeciliae (missa cellensis), Hob XXV:5
Laudamus te [4:48]
Quoniam [2:53]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
“Ah, lo previdi… Ah, t’invola aglo’occhi miei”, KV 272 [12:21]
“Cho’io mi scordi di te … Non temer, amato bene”, KV 505 [10:32]
Ah se in ciel, benign stele, KV 538 [7:27]
Mass in C minor KV 427 “Grosse Messe”
Credo: Et incarnates est [7:34]
Exsulte, judilate, KV 165
Alleluia [2:40]
Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano)
Haydn Orchestra/Harry Newstone
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Maag
rec. 1956-1958, London
ELOQUENCE 482 5049 [63:01]

Eloquence reissues old gems with all the modern quality and convenience of digital audio. It is marvellous to hear these historic recordings. Not only does the first CD speak of Mozart’s time as a court musician and his need to provide music for the many feast days of the Roman Catholic calendar, but it is a beautiful snapshot of music-making in the middle of the twentieth century. Jennifer Vyvyan is of course the celebrity on both these discs. Her long and close relationship with Benjamin Britten and the lead roles in some of his most well-received operas gave her a platform to explore other contemporary works of this time. She was especially sought-after as soloist for Baroque blockbusters including the Bach Passions and Handel’s Messiah.

Vyvyan was a hugely skilled musician. However, the other musicians on this recording go almost entirely unmentioned! Nancy Evans OBE was another favourite of Britten’s—the role of Nancy in Albert Herring was created for her. She has the same purity of tone as Vyvyan, making them perfect duet partners in the solo sections, including the Sancta Maria of KV 195. The Australian-born tenor, William Herbert, was perhaps of less high profile during his English career, but he lends his strong, controlled and confident voice to the ensemble. His starring role is in the fourth movement of KV 195. He sets out in a declamatory manner the drama of the text, which translates as Queen of the angels. Yet this piece closes with Jennifer Vyvyan taking centre-stage again. The Agnus Dei is spellbinding. The singer’s trills as incredibly controlled, and the large leaps of register, are handled gracefully. I particularly enjoy the warmth Vyvyan gives to the held notes, gradually adding vibrato as a string player would. Anthony Lewis, who will be remembered for his role as the first Chief Editor of Musica Britannica as well as his work in reviving lesser known Baroque works, picks slower tempi than is usual in similar works in performances today. This slower tempo gives the soloists and choir time to shape each phrase carefully.

Whilst slower tempi allow expressivity and careful shaping, the adverse effect is a loss of excitement in faster movements. This is evident in the Miserere section of the second movement of KV 243. The soloist is given the limelight but the orchestral passages lack the forward motion that would be more common in the 21st century. A movement where the energy of the voices and instruments are more happily matched is the fourth movement – Hostia Sancta. Vyvyan fans will enjoy the solo passages where her long lines contrast with the dramatic interjections from the Boyd Neel Orchestra. Vyvyan fan or not, everyone will be captivated by the best movement on the CD – Dulcissimum convivium. You will have to listen to it yourselves to appreciate the technically demanding yet extremely emotive performance here.

While the forces and techniques of opera and oratorio are similar in many ways, there is nothing in Haydn’s sacred works quite like the aria from Scena di Berenice. It allows a less restrained performance from the super-star soprano. And what virtuosity! Some of this open extroversion still remains in the Quoniam from Missa cellensis. The speed chosen by Harry Newstone and the Haydn Orchestra, as well as the inclusion of brass in this particular work, more closely resemble modern performance practice and make for a very exciting rendition.

The somehow different sound quality and fuller timbre of the London Philharmonic Orchestra detract from the unrestrained expression of the previous tracks. Yet this does not hinder the stunning performance of the “vocal concerto” (CD notes)—the famous Alleluia from KV 165. Each performer of course has a unique interpretation of frequently heard pieces like this. For a more deliberate approach to articulation, try Barbara Bonney. For a fuller tone (and magnificent perm) try Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Both are available via YouTube.

There is no doubt that Jennifer Vyvyan was one of the most accomplished performers of her day. Her unique sound yet self-assured performances make both these CDs highly enjoyable. It is a pleasure to hear less-known works by any great composer. Listening to the Litanies has been very enjoyable. However, the recital-like programme on the Scenes and Arias disc make it engaging and entertaining. Highly recommended.

Hannah Parry


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