The Mozartists’ Splendid Evening Capped by Bastien und Bastienne

19/09/2018

Haydn, Anonymous and Mozart: Ellie Laugharne (soprano); Alessandro Fisher (tenor); Darren Jeffrey (bass-baritone); The Mozartists / Ian Page (conductor). Wigmore Hall, London,18.9.2018 (CC)

Haydn – Symphony No. 49 in F minor, ‘La Passione’
Anon. – Arias from Teutsche Comoedie Arien
Mozart – Bastien und Bastienne

Recently, The Mozartists and Ian Page issued a phenomenal disc of Mozart’s Bastien und Bastiennewith two of the three soloists used here at the Wigmore; that performance was coupled with Mozart’s Grabmusik. Here, the first half was more fascinating still: a contemporaneous Haydn symphony (which notably included the repeat of the second part of the first movement) followed by anonymous arias of the ilk that Mozart linked into when composing Bastien.

The Haydn ‘Passione’ Symphony fits nicely into The Mozartists’ Mozart 250 celebrations as it was premiered 250 years ago in 1768, two years after Haydn fully took over the role of Kapellmeister at Esterházy. It works with the old Sonata da Chiesa form of beginning with a slow movement (here a long one) before progressing on to a fast movement, Menuet and finally a Presto. Page’s reading of the first movement was profound and unhurried, the second part repeat allowing the music to stretch almost luxuriously into its pathos. Tender and profound, the phrasing was carefully considered; unfolding naturally, this was an immersive experience. The dislodging, jagged lines of the fascinating second movement allegro seemed determined to prolong the anguish. The contrasts in the Menuet and Trio were similarly stark. Fittingly, the finale was decidedly feverish. The chamber string sound worked perfectly – there’s only a limited number of players one can fit on the Wigmore stage.

The two volumes of around 25 anonymous arias in the collection Teutsche Comoedie Arien that were presented between 1754 and 1758 at Vienna’s Kärntnertheater, thanks to the impresario Joseph von Kurz-Bernardon (1717-1784), exemplify popular German comedy in musical form, and thus give us an idea of by what Mozart may have been influenced in Bastien. The superb soprano Ellie Laugharne was delightful in ‘Wurstl mein Schatz’rl’ (‘My darling little sausage’), an aria of lament at parting from her lover; the second aria, ‘Verdopple deine Wuth’ (‘Double your anger then’) just as affecting. The tenor, Alessandro Fisher, was if anything even more impressive, his sound beautifully warm and even throughout a wide range in his ‘Die Braut zu vergessen’ (‘To forget about my bride’), an aria with a strong comedic element about pesky insects that he acted out brilliantly. He was gloriously lyrical in ‘O du arme Welt’ (‘Oh you poor world’). A quirk of the final song ’Du könntest zwar vor allen’ was that the first three lines are in three different languages (German, Italian and French); but it was Laugharne’s perfect slurs that really impressed. The deliberate surfeit of emotions in these arias was perfectly conveyed by the singers and Page’s alert accompaniments.

The performance of Bastien und Bastienne follows on from Classical Opera’s La Finta semplice at the QEH in June this year (review). This was ostensibly the first UK performance of the original version of Bastien, a piece composed for private performance at the house of the famous Doctor Franz Anton Mesmer (he of mesmerism). A Salzburg revision of the text after the Mozarts returned to that city was undertaken by Johann Schachter, a court trumpeter who later created the libretto for Zaide. The main body of the music was untouched, however, but there was a rewriting of the dialogue with a view for recitative. In the event, only the first four of these recitatives were set by Mozart. Page’s performance therefore gave us the original piece (the manuscript was rediscovered in the 1980s).

Bastien und Bastienne is a delicious Singspiel, its length perfect for its slight plot. The shepherdess Bastienne is abandoned by her sweetheart Bastien for a noble lady from the city.  The fortune-teller and magician Colas orchestrates a reconciliation via a fabulous ‘nonsense’ magical spell aria, beautifully done here by the fine Darren Jeffrey, with each meaningless word relished for its sound alone (‘Tötzel, Brätzel, Schober, Kober’). Jeffrey was even more characterful than in the superlative recent recording of this piece by these forces (except for the Bastienne, who on the recording is sung by Anna Lucia Richter). Alessandro Fisher was if anything still finer than heard in the recording, his eloquence in ‘Meiner Liebsten schöne Wangen’ (‘My beloved’s lovely cheeks’) a delight. The translated libretto, incidentally, was projected onto the Wigmore’s back wall. Ellie Laugharne’s Bastienne was fresh, her ‘Wenn mein Bastien einst im Scherze’ (‘When my Bastien was a joke’) infinitely tender. Intriguingly, pronunciation of the name ‘Bastien’ was not absolutely congruent between the soloists, with Laugharne’s the most identifiably French. A small quibble for music of such delicious openness and joy.

The opera can be traced back to a piece by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), best known as a philosopher. Rousseau’s Le devin du village, an ‘intermède’ featured a shepherd and shepherdess by the names of Colin and Colette, with the ‘devin’ of the title being the soothsayer-magician. From this piece sprouted a parody, Les amours de Bastien et Bastienne by Favart and de Guerville – it was at this point the Soothsayer got the name of Colas. Ian Page apparently considered presenting the Rousseau in the first half, but musically the present programme trumped it. And, indeed, the contextualisation of the world of Bastien was inspired, informative and enriching. A splendid evening.

Colin Clarke

For more about The Mozartists in 2018/19 click here.

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