United Kingdom Mozart, Celebrating Amadeus: Benjamin Frith (piano), Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson (soprano), Ten Tors Orchestra / Simon Ible (conductor), Theatre 1, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University. Plymouth, 12.7.2014 (PRB)
Symphony No 25 in G minor, K183 (First movement)
Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, K466
‘Ruhe Sanft’ from Zaide, K344
‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ from Le Nozze di Figaro, K492
‘Der Hölle Rache’ from Die Zauberflöte, K620
Symphony No 29 in A major, K201
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 104
Composers’ anniversaries provide a regular source of concert opportunities, but this usually doesn’t stretch to commemorating the release of a thirty-year-old film unless, of course, that film was the now-iconic Amadeus featuring the composer Mozart.
2014, in fact, marks the thirtieth anniversary of Milos Forman’s spectacular film adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play of that name. Evoking the theatrical and virtuosic characteristics of the composer, the man and his music, the Ten Tors Orchestra’s (TTO) contribution to an ongoing celebration at Plymouth University, which also included a showing of the film in the campus’s Jill Craigie Cinema, was this concert featuring music heard on the original soundtrack.
With the TTO’s conductor’s acknowledged skill in programme planning, the resulting ‘Celebrating Amadeus’ provided the ideal occasion to put together a varied mix of Mozart’s music, combining the familiar with the less frequently-heard.
The first movement of the early G minor Symphony No 25 got the evening off to a fine start, with crisp playing from the Ten Tors strings, matched by some charming woodwind contributions. If the composer’s notoriously high tessitura, in terms of his horn parts, produced the odd hiccup, in no way did this compromise the sound and effectiveness of the performance overall.
Acclaimed British pianist Benjamin Frith joined the TTO – the resident ensemble of Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University – in an accomplished performance of the composer’s D minor Piano Concerto. For a generation now used to the absolute precision of digital recordings and seamless editing, the few minor slips couldn’t go completely unnoticed, especially in the ascending arpeggio-figure at the start of the finale, but again this didn’t detract from the final performance, and Frith’s management of hardly the most responsive of grand pianos, when a singing tone was called for (particularly in the central Romance) was commendable. The orchestral accompaniment was handled with particular sensitivity, both in terms of balance with the soloist, and in maintaining a taut ensemble.
Up-and-coming UK soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson’s opening aria from Zaide was probably the least effective of the three on offer. Perhaps the voice wasn’t fully warmed up, but the admittedly difficult leap up to high A within the first few bars wasn’t really as smooth as could be expected, and there was also some occasional slight roughness elsewhere along the way. Susanna’s recitative and aria from Act 4 of The Marriage of Figaro – in fact an additional item announced on the night – proved far more successful, and the integral ‘presentation’ – albeit with neither costume nor scenery – added an extra dimension in performance. But it was in Der Hölle Rache from The Magic Flute that Jenkins-Róbertssonreally came to life. Facial expressions alone caught the angry mood to sheer perfection, and while those elusive top Fs weren’t quite in the Sutherland or Sills camp, the remainder of the decidedly demanding coloratura writing was despatched with real aplomb.
Prior to the final item, conductor Simon Ible drew attention to the fact that the TTO’s leader, Malcolm Latchem, had actually taken part in the 1984 soundtrack recording at London’s Abbey Road studios, when, under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner, Latchem was one of The Academy of St Martins in the Fields’s principals, who were responsible for the music. Latchem gave a short, but fascinatingly anecdotal insight into how the session went, and just how different it would have been from a similar such exercise, some thirty years later.
With players of Latchem’s expertise and experience now populating the ranks of the TTO, it comes as no surprise that this orchestra can definitely hold its own in comparison with other similar-sized ensembles around the UK – which the evening’s final work – a well-studied and briskly-paced reading of the Symphony No 29 in A – well and truly confirmed.
Philip R Buttall