United Kingdom Mozart: Alison Rose, (soprano), Kitty Whately, (mezzo/alto), Alex Banfield, (tenor), Terence Ayebare, (baritone), St George’s Singers / Neil Tailor (conductor), Chetham’s Chamber Orchestra / Stephen Threlfall (conductor), Concert Hall. Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 21.11. 2015. (RJF)
Mozart – Serenade for Orchestra No. 6 in D major. Serenata Noturna (K.239); Flute Concerto in D Major (K314). (Solo flute, Lucy Driver); Great Mass in C minor. K.427.
I have many times extolled the virtues of the St. George’s Singers, often in the great choral classics such as Bach’s B Minor Mass (see review) and St. Matthew Passion (see review). Nor did they shirk tackling a recently composed jazz setting of the Latin Mass in 2009, or when combining Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, with giving the World Premiere of Will Todd’s Footprints in this Hall in December 2013. On this occasion, an all Mozart evening involved the St. George’s Singers combining with musicians from the Chetham’s School in Manchester, surely the leading such specialist music school for secondary age pupils in the UK.
As well as accompanying the St. George’s Singers, the Chetham’s Chamber Orchestra provided a substantial contribution in the first half of the concert. It was more a significant first course rather than an amuse bouche! Twenty-three young players under the direction of conductor Stephen Threlfall provided a sympathetic account of Mozart’s Serenata Notturna with the Rondo demanding, and getting, scintillating treatment.
For Mozart’s Concerto for flute no 2, the orchestra were augmented by further school colleagues and a tall and elegant flute soloist, Lucy Driver, aged seventeen. From Stroud, and having shown interest and enthusiasm for music as a flute player since the age of six, she has studied with Linda Verrier for the last four years. During this period Miss Driver has had opportunity to play in Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, in small ensembles and under renowned conductors at prestigious festivals including Snape Maltings and the BBC Proms. Her sophisticated demeanour was matched by her playing that was exemplified by tonal purity, expression and skill. She produced a depth and sonority of tone to go along with fine legato and trill when appropriate. Throughout her performance, which reached its apex in the wonderful last movement, a rondo again, she was followed and supported by Stephen Threlfall who was on the rostrum for both the Flute concerto and the serenade.
After the interval, and for the main course perhaps, the St. George’s Singers joined the orchestral musicians, further supplemented by some brass. As with the orchestra, ladies significantly outnumber males and whilst the students exhibited youth the choir showed what could be achieved in greying or balding maturity. Whilst the four soloists were equal in number between the sexes in the survived music Mozart hardly shared the solo opportunities out, with the evening’s sonorous baritone baritone only getting a brief sing in the quartet of the final Benedictus and the ringing voice of the evening’s tenor not featuring until the Quoniam. Such inequality is not usual in Mozart’s more carefully structured and completed pieces. Therein is the inner story behind the composition of the piece. Composed in difficult personal circumstances for Mozart on his return to Salzburg the year after his great success in Vienna with the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The death of his first child whilst he was back in Salzburg, and confronting his dominant father, who had condemned his departure from the Court there, could have contributed to the his various compositional problems and the work’s non completion.
As far as what music of the Mass is extant it got excellent performance from the choir and female soloists who carried the major burden. Despite being significantly outnumbered, the tenors and basses gave an excellent account of themselves in competition with the superior numbers of the sopranos and altos in the Gloria in excelsis. They might seem in competition so vigorous their singing, but what matters with this choir, particularly under the rigorous preparation of their Music director and conductor Neil Taylor, is the perfection of their articulation. Exact, and with the benefit of the acoustic clarity of the recently refurbished and enlarged RNCM Concert Hall, every word was clear and the weight and sonority seemed always to be as it should. They would go down well in today’s Salzburg, let alone in the neighbouring German venues where they performed last May.
Of the lady soloists in the Mass, soprano Alison Rose started somewhat tentatively in the opening Kyrie eleison. Having only just completed her studies this was perhaps nerves, importantly she grew in strength and confidence after the duet Domine deus where she was joined by the assured, warm toned and smoothly sonorous singing of the experienced mezzo Kitty Whately. By the Et incarnates Miss rose was in fine form singing with strength across her range and with a scure trill as well as high notes.
Robert J Farr