An Evening of Mozart ()

  • (Orchestral item : Symphony in D K.196/121)
  • Mozart Solemn Vespers K.339
  • Mozart Mass in C minor K.427



Lichfield Cathedral, The Close, Lichfield, WS13 7LD [map]

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Choir that made Mozart's day

What a delightful Mozartfest we enjoyed in the Cathedral last Saturday, courtesy of the Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir and St Chad's Camerata conducted by Philip Scriven. The composer’s 250th Anniversary year was celebrated with a wide-ranging programme, beginning with the rather strange choice of the Symphony in D, a blend of other short works which the late-teenaged Mozart put together, probably in a hurry. However, its miniature first movement immediately displayed the Camerata’s well-rounded string tone, under the leadership of Martin Hughes, and showed a clear debt to Haydn in its wonderfully humorous touches… we certainly danced with the angels!

This hors d’oeuvres was followed by the magnificent Solemn Vespers, with anything but a solemn opening. The choir’s excellent tuning was apparent from the start, though it took some time for a truly confident sound to emerge, perhaps the result of the pressure of so much Latin text alongside the complex vocal writing. Here was the Mozart of complex rhythmic writing and massive fugues after the manner of JS Bach, and at times the rhythmic complexity lacked the necessary crispness, muddying the harmonies a little. However, the well-balanced solo quartet of the excellent and well-projected bass, William Berger, the lyrical tenor Mark Chaundy and the rich mezzo-soprano Alexandra Gibson, along with Natalie Clifton-Griffith’s fresh, youthful soprano gave a pleasant relief to the generally massive sound. The final Magnificat brought the work to life, with the first truly confident singing by the choir providing a rousing close.

If this soup-course demonstrated the middle-aged Mozart of impeccable compositional technique (he was 24, after all!), the first notes after the interval brought us into a main course of sublime mature Mozart (now aged 27) where academic prowess became the mere servant of the profoundest expression. Here we heard those parts of the Mass in C minor which Mozart is known to have completed himself, and the fact that this was almost certainly written to celebrate the composer’s own marriage to Constanze Weber, for whom the soprano solos were written, and the birth of his first child confirms the sincerity which is apparent from the opening bars. Any Mozart work in C minor will be profound, and here the combination of deep emotion and great joy in life are perfectly expressed, lending a particular poignancy to the selection of this work as a dedication on this occasion to the memory of Philip Scriven’s younger brother Graeme.

All of the performers rose magnificently to this special occasion, with confident opening bars (the words were so much more familiar) and a truly glorious outburst at the beginning of the Gloria. Most of the choral singing was crisp and positive, apart from some major-minor uncertainty in the double choir Qui tollis, though some of the very long, legato vocal lines, such as Cum Sancto Spiritu, needed more sense of forward movement and a little less constant loud singing to give shape to the phrases. However, much of the choral singing showed great verve, culminating in a magnificent Sanctus.

Constanze must have been an amazing soprano! Of the many extreme technical passages in evidence in this programme, the Et incarnatus est with its range of almost two and a half octaves must have been the most taxing, yet it was tackled with confidence and near-perfection by Natalie Clifton Griffith, whose excellent sense of rhythm and musicality shone through her deceptively pure and liquid sound with refreshing clarity and effortless top notes. There were just some moments of insufficient volume in her lower range, but this was well compensated for by the richness of Alexandra Gibson’s middle voice. Their Domine Deus duet was sensitively sung and surprisingly well blended, although top Bflat was just a touch too far for Alexandra, and the addition of the tenor and bass for the final quartet gave us an all-too-brief taste of the quality of these four singers.

This combination of an excellent young quartet, a well-balanced and sensitive orchestra and a committed choir has produced a most fitting concert to celebrate Mozart’s special year, and augurs well for a splendid Messiah in December.

in Lichfield Mercury, May 2006