Mozart in London
Ana Maria Labin (soprano), Helen Sherman (mezzo), Ben Johnson (tenor), Anna Devin (soprano), Rebecca Bottone (soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Martene Grimson (soprano), Eleanor Dennis (soprano), The Mozartists, Ian Page.
This is a truly fascinating album from Ian Page and the Mozartists. It was recorded live, in February 2015, during a weekend of music making that formed part of the Mozart 250 celebrations. The subject of the weekend was the Mozart family’s extended stay in London.
During the young Mozart’s 15-month stay in London, as part of a three year ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, he composed his first significant works; namely three symphonies and a concert aria for tenor and orchestra. Each of these works is performed on this double CD album, but these are not the real treasures in store. The rest of the programme focuses upon music by other composers that is known to have been performed in London during the time of the visit. In all there are more than a dozen world premiere recordings; mostly of excerpts from operas.
Knowing that J C Bach and his compatriot Karl Friedrich Abel delivered their celebrated Bach-Abel concert series while Mozart was in London, it is fitting that there are five pieces by J C Bach and also a performance of Abel’s Symphony in E flat major, Op. 7 No. 6¹ on this recording. In a less familiar vein. there is an overture and aria by George Rush (fl.1760-85); a composer who I had not previously encountered.
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to hear some of Mozart’s early works performed in a historical context. On listening to this release one can only imagine the considerable amount of reconstruction from original manuscripts that must have gone into preparing these performances. Many of the songs and arias especially are rarely (if ever) performed.
A clear highlight of this release was Stephen Devine’s superb performance of J C Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D major, Op.1 No.6. This work was dedicated to Queen Charlotte, and its final movement contains a set of variations on Thomas Arne’s God Save the King.
The standard of musicianship and the quality of the singing are every bit as good as one would expect from Ian Page and his team. The CDs are well packaged, with informative notes, and the performances in London’s Milton Court have been admirably captured by the recording engineers. Overall this is a fascinating release that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone that wishes to broaden their appreciation of the music that was being performed in London in the 1760s and who wants to hear works by William Bates and Davide Perez, two other composers not known to me, for the first time. Congratulations to all concerned in the production of this most enterprising release.
¹ This work was once believed to have been composed by Mozart on account of a surviving copy in the young composer’s hand.