Here are the reviews from our Concert at the 31st Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square:
Bach – Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV62
Bach – Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV51
Mozart – Exsultate Jubilate K165
Haydn – Missa Sancti Nicolai
Lucy Crowe – soprano
David Blackadder – trumpet
Baroque and classical delights ★★★★
“Bach cantatas, Haydn’s St Nicholas Mass and a Mozart soprano showpiece in this delightful Christmas programme. David Peter Bates and La Nuova Musica provided us with four Christmas (or Christmassy) treats on 19 December 2016 as their contribution to the 31st Christmas Festival that runs for most of December at St John’s Smith Square. Their programme consisted of two Baroque favourites by Bach followed by two Classical pieces by Mozart and Haydn, with the soprano showpieces bookended by choral works, performed with soloists soprano Lucy Crowe and trumpeter David Blackadder.
We started with Bach’s Advent cantata, Nun komm, der Heiden Heliand BWV 62, written for Weimar and first performed in 1724. This was played with a muscular energy that made the opening sound like Handel, and this provided a stonking support for the voices; there were only eight of them but they made a beefy sound bigger than one would expect. The tenor recitative and aria sounded as though a baritone might have been at home in them; James Arthur’s earthy recit made time stand still and Augusta Hebbert sang delightfully. The stage choreography could have been better managed, but aurally it was great ensemble.
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV 51 was first performed in Leipzig – a more extravagant piece for starry soloists, which we certainly had tonight. Lucy Crowe went from crazy coloratura to poised legato and David Blackadder from fortissimo to pianissimo in the twinkling of an eye. The orchestra of strings and organ added to the variety.
After the interval the orchestra was augmented by woodwinds and horns, and Crowe came on with a different frock (red) for Mozart’s much-loved motet Exsultate, Jubilate. This piece was composed when Mozart was at a loose end between Christmas and the end of January 1773 and written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini who was singing in his opera Lucio Silla. Nowadays it seems to be the preserve of sopranos, and Lucy Crowe gave us a glimpse of how she would sing Susanna (Figaro), flirting with the oboe (and the audience) and breathily panting the ‘Alleluias’ in the style of the restaurant scene in When Harry met Sally. It all went down a treat.
Haydn composed his Missa Sanctae Nicolai at the same time as the Mozart, for the name day of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Writing church music was not in his contract with the Esterházys and this mass has a secular, wonderfully outdoorsy feel (with a ‘Credo’ that flew past at breakneck speed). We had to double-check that there were no trumpets or timpani in this arrangement – the ‘pastoral’ illusion was provided by the horns, oboes and double bass. The piece is scored for SATB soloists and SATB choir, and the singers were clearly enjoying it as much as we were.
This was popular repertoire through fresh eyes from Bates and colleagues – he made us listen as though we hadn’t heard any of it before.”
Baroque Christmas comfort for us heathens
Season fare: La Nuova Musica offered a festive evening
“……Bates conducted with a theatrical flourish, but rhythms were crisp and buoyant while the vocal solos eschewed excess rhetoric in favour of conversational directness raised to the level of song.
With Bach’s Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen…… Crowe proved a sparkling soloist, delivering Bach’s vocal elaborations with expressive naturalness, while David Blackadder’s flourishes on baroque trumpet were volatile, almost to the point of wildness…….Crowe returned, having changed her frock for something marginally more restrained; her singing, though, was even more glorious. In Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate (“Rejoice, be glad”), she threw off Mozart’s fantasticated coloratura with seemingly effortless ease. Yet she also imbued slower passages with unexaggerated sensuality, as if reminding us that Mozart wrote the piece while still a teenager, when his mind perhaps lingered on matters more sensual than spiritual……”
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Anna Picard – The Times ★★★☆☆
“……The soprano Lucy Crowe illustrated the difference between consort and solo singing in Bach’s 1730 cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, biting into the consonants, sprinting daintily across two octaves of coloratura writing, blanching then adding blush to her tone in duet with the trumpeter David Blackadder. Bates’s uptempo Brandenburgian approach gave a lift that continued in Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. Crowe and Bates feminised the motet with playful cadenzas that hinted at The Marriage of Figaro and the C minor Mass.
Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai closed the concert, its mellow cheer offset by a sudden chill of dissonance in the Agnus Dei and enhanced by the warmth of horns and oboes, and the rich, firm singing of the mezzo-soprano soloist Anna Harvey.”
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“La Nuova Musica opened its programme with J. S. Bach’s ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, which connects us to an earlier world of belief, a chorale Cantata based on a hymn by Martin Luther. It opens in brooding fashion and slowly the mystery of the Supreme Ruler is unveiled to the World. The sense of mounting excitement at the onset of Advent is palpable. La Nuova Musica is a high-performance team with a chorus of eight and an instrumental ensemble of twelve. There was nothing under-nourished about the sound, however, and David Bates was at pains to ensure a richly textured and well-balanced performance.
‘Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen’ is one of the most brilliant of Bach’s solo Cantatas notable for the virtuosity of the soprano part as well as the splendour of the trumpet obbligato. Lucy Crowe followed David Blackadder’s example and her voice had a clarion ring to it. The abnormally high tessitura was negotiated with ease and she gave a dazzling account that was also moving in its simple praise of God. She was partnered by Blackadder with style and finesse, and the orchestral support was alert and vivid with Alexander Rolton an eloquent cellist.
Following the interval, numbers grew and Bates moved from the harpsichord to the podium. The Mozart, with its famous ‘Alleluia’, is a bravura soprano solo from start to finish. In its combination of agility and creamy, full-bodied tone, Crowe’s voice is well-suited, with élan and radiance in equal measure and an abundance of high spirits.
Haydn’s “pastoral mass” was probably intended for the Feast of St Nicholas. It has a pleasant bucolic character and shares imagery of shepherds in the fields during the Christmas season. It isn’t vintage Haydn but has many lovely moments such as ‘Gratias agrimus tibi’, beautifully sung by Augusta Hebbert, and a joyfulness that benefited from brisk tempos, especially in the bookending dance-like movements. There was spontaneity in every bar, and as an encore was a brief but heart-warming Bach Chorale.”