4th February 2018
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
5 Stars *****
A Glorious All-Mozart Evening
Review: Paul Gray
Mozart is rightly celebrated as a composer who wrote remarkably well for the female voice. He seemed to understand it, and it seemed to inspire him to some of his greatest composition. Ex Cathedra’s programme of music, focusing as it did on the music Mozart wrote for some of the greatest soprno and mezzo-soprano singers of his age, took in music written across the span of his brief career which included the very well known and the more obscure.
Celebrated Soprano, Caroline Sampson, gave us the first taste of just how tender and exquisite Mozart’s music for soprano voice could be in a wordless vocalise accompanied simply on the organ. Although not so well known in itself, this short piece, based as it was on motifs used in the Kyrie of the Great C Minor Mass, part of which were performed later in evening, nicely established a sense of thematic unity in the concert of which the maestro himself would have been proud.
This was followed by a searing and visceral reading of the “Der Hölle Rache” from The Magic Flute by Samantha Hay, standing in at the last minute. This was a commanding and intensely committed performance, marred ever so slightly with some minor tuning issues in the passage work.
A regular performer with Ex Cathedra, Katie Tretheway proved technically more than equal to the demands of concert aria “No, che non sei capace”, although the piece required more vocal presence.
Two of the choral mainstays of the evening were “Litaniae Lauretaniae” and extracts from the “C Minor Mass”, the one an early Salzburg composition, the latter a more mature work created an interesting contrast between Mozart at his more work-a-day and his more inspired and innovative. The former was charming and beautifully performed with a real feeling of ensemble from the soloists. But the real satisfying meat of the evening came from the Mass. This showed off the technical accomplishment of the choir, particularly in the double fugue of the “Cum Sancto Spiritu”. Jeffrey Skidmore delivered a masterfully reading of this movement. It was as though he was holding a priceless jewel up to the light. Caroline Sampson, a jewel herself throughout the evening, displayed an incomparable sensitivity and technical command in a breathlessly beautiful performance of the “Et incarnates est”.
The CBSO provided playing of great clarify and precision throughout. The evening ended with choir and orchestra combining to give a genuinely heartfelt and sensitive rendition of the almost iconic “Ave Verum”.
Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore
Ex Cathedra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Sopranos: Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Cragg, Samantha Hay, Carolyn Sampson, Katie Tretheway
Mezzo soprano: Martha McLorinan
Tenors: Bradley Smith, James Robinson
Bass: Nick Ashby