Sandrine Piau’s Delectable Mozart

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Ruhe Sanft: A Mozart Kaleidoscope Sandrine Piau (soprano), The Orchestra of Classical Opera, Ian Page (conductor). Wigmore Hall, London. 15.10.2012 (CC)

Mozart – Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546
Handel (arr. Mozart) – Ode for St Cecilia’s Day: Leidenschaften stillt und weckt Musik
Mozart – Symphony in F, K19a.KAnh.223
Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, K35: Ein ergimmter Löwe brüllet
Mitridate: Grazie ai Numi … Nel grave tormento
La finta giardiniera: Geme la tortorella; Crudeli fermate … Ah dal pianto
Symphony No. 27 in G, K199
Zaide: Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben; Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen


I think it is fair to say that, whatever the appeal of the Classical Opera and Ian Page whose Artaxerxes at the Royal Opera’s Linbury in 2009 was mightily memorable, most people probably came to this concert for a chance to hear Sandrine Piau. They were not to be disappointed.

The purely orchestral (the term is used lightly – the Wigmore stage cannot accommodate a great number of players) Adagio and Fugue in C minor benefitted from the players’ essentially vibrato-free approach. The rawness of sound emphasised the more adventurous harmonies.

The warm, Mozartean glow layered on to Handel’s “What Passion cannot Music raise and quell”, sung of course in German, featured a beautiful cello solo as well as the most lovely legato, including perfect slurs, from Piau. It is quite a long aria – around eight minutes – but Piau sustained the lines effortlessly. The considerable depth of the music was fully honoured (later, Piau was to sing as an encore an aria from Alexander’s Feast that was just as impressive).

It felt as if we had only a taster of Piau before she disappeared and we were fed some more early orchestral Mozart, this time the symphony in F, K19a, written in London in 1765 when the composer was only nine years old. It is a most affable piece, as all well-behaved symphonies in F major should be. The first movement was positively effervescent; the second the epitome of gallanterie; the finale (a Presto) the rawest of the offerings, with great syncopated natural horns. Tremendous fun! The 27th Symphony (1773) was to act as a similarly engaging orchestral interlude during the second half, its three movements encompassing a Figaro-like atmosphere, some fascinating orchestral textures in the slow movement and a four-note theme flung about the orchestra with youthful abandon in the finale.

The oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (“The Obligation of the first and foremost commandment”) was composed by no less than three composers: Mozart, Michael Haydn and Anton Adlgasser. It was first performed in1767, so Mozart’s contributions are a product of his prodigiously talented early teens. The aria offered here by Sandrine Piau is a delightful one that describes an apathetic hunter who couldn’t care less when a rampant lion approaches. The music is remarkably confident; bubbly at first but with a nicely contrasting section that found Piau in magical form. The aria that followed, from Mitridate (1770), to round off the first half, can be found on her Naïve disc of Mozart arias with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Aspasia’s aria tells of the agony of choosing duty over love. Piau seemed to live this piece and its emotions: the test of this is that one hardly noticed the difficulty of what she sang – although it was difficult not to revel in her delicious staccato.

The arias in the second half furnished further evidence of Piau’s ability instantly to sink into a role. “Crudele fermate”, the second of the two arias from La Finta giardiniera (appropriately sung by the character Sandrina), was properly anguished, with suspensions speaking volumes. The final arias (from Zaide) found Piau at her most eloquent in “Ruhe sanft”; a pity the orchestra was a little ragged in the slower section of the dramatic “Tiger!” This was a fantastic way to close the evening, with a shout of “Tiger!”

Colin Clarke