SCO / Whelan / Bray
Perth Concert Hall
It’s easy to see why Guadeloupe-born composer Joseph Boulogne, known also as Chevalier de Saint-George once he had inherited his plantation-owning father’s title, was so popular in his day, even more so in certain circles than the slightly younger Mozart. The overture to his one surviving opera, L’Amant Anonyme, is to 18th century Classicism what fine porcelain is to ceramics: delicate, translucent and well-proportioned.
It’s the opener in a chic Mozart-centric programme filmed in Perth Concert Hall by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conducted by former SCO principal bassoonist Peter Whelan, the common link between Boulogne and Mozart being that they briefly shared lodgings in Paris.
Cast in three short sections, there is more than symphonic pretence to this overture, existing successfully on its own as a concert piece. Whelan, directing from the harpsichord, engages at once with its elegant precision and cool-headed elan. The opening section is the epitome of finesse and le bon goût. But it’s in the central slower section where Whelan’s unassuming mastery comes to the fore, his responsive control of the textures drawing the ear to what matters, gently suppressing what doesn’t. Boulogne was as masterful a swordsman as a composer, we are told, which echoes true in the artful cut and thrust of the overture’s dizzy conclusion.
Mozart was well-known for his orchestral updates of Handel, notably the “Mozart version” of Messiah. But he also turned his hand to Handel’s pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, the overture of which throws an unlikely brace of clarinets into the limelight.
It’s to Maximiliano Martin’s and William Stafford’s enormous credit that they found the exactness and versatility necessary to headline this vivacious performance with such stylistic conviction. That the overture ends on an imperfect cadence – there is, by definition, more to come – presents a curious, though some might argue theatrical, hiatus.
Martin also plays a key role in the aria “Parti, parto ma tu ben mio” from Mozart’s late opera La clemenza di Tito, duetting mellifluously with the golden mezzo soprano of Katie Bray. Hers is a voice that combines the heightened thrills of the soprano with the soulful pungency of the lower tessitura. And where this impassioned aria – Sesto’s blind, reckless love overruling common sense – displays Bray’s range of emotional heat, what follows, the Laudamus Te from Mozart’s Mass in C minor, is a brilliant showpiece for an exceptional singer.
Mozart’s Linz Symphony is, to some extent, a representation of his entire personality. Whelan takes every opportunity to demonstrate that, from the majestic poise of the opening movement, through the lyrical charm of the Andante and the simple elegance of the Menuetto to the gleeful, easeful finality of the closing Presto. No need for over-prescriptive hand gestures; the sheer joy communicated by Whelan’s facial expressions convey all that’s required to secure a vintage SCO performance. Classy to the last.
Available to view via www.sco.org.uk