Piau Wows

In Classical Music, Handel, Mozart, Review on October 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Review – “Ruhe sanft” – A Mozart Kaleidoscope (Wigmore Hall, Monday 15 October 2012)

Sandrine Piau (Soprano)
Jonathan Manson (Cello)
The Orchestra of Classical Opera

Ian Page (Conductor)

It was quite simply an evening of the highest standard of musicianship from French soprano Sandrine Piau, brilliantly and sympathetically supported by the Orchestra of Classical Opera under Ian Page.

The narrative of the concert included arias spanning the beginning and closing years of Mozart life, including his interest with Handel. Inspired by his discovery of JS Bach and Handel the concert opened with a dramatic, rhythmically alert and sonorous performance of Mozart’s Adagio & Fugue in c minor. The Adagio had all the tension of coiling a spring before the release of the fugue, driven forward with incredible care given to the individual lines by Page right into the stretto at the end.

Also in the first half the Orchestra gave a spirited performance of Mozart’s Symphony in F written when he was only nine years old but only discovered in 1981. What’s so clearly evident – as it was with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment only a few weeks ago – is the very clear enjoyment and pleasure that this ensemble has in music making. I’m beginning to wonder in fact if this evident enjoyment on the stage is unique to original instrument ensembles as I rarely see more ‘traditional’ orchestras even crack a smile when playing. Playing all the repeats again Page kept the tempos brisk and drove the music forward with rhythmic vitality.

Ms Piau first took to the stage with an aria from Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, Leidenschaften stillt und weckt Musik, more commonly known as ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell’ and an aria that Ms Piau has committed to disc recently.

Jonathan Manson, principal cellist with the Orchestra of Classical Opera deserves special mention for his delicate and fluid playing of the obbligato in this aria as well as one of two encores performed at the end of the evening. His rich, suave tone was a pleasure to listen to and he complimented Ms Piau perfectly.

The actual arrangement of this aria by Mozart made the original by Handel seem – to me at any rate – more like Haydn. Almost like something that would be out of place in The Creation for example.

Ms Piau immediately demonstrated why she is one of the leading sopranos. Her sure and solid technique combined with musical intelligence and eloquence underpins a voice of great beauty and character which is warm, bronzed almost, and even.

Ms Piau bestowed on Mozart’s arrangement of this aria a serenity that had the audience enthralled from the moment she began to sing.

Next she sang an aria from Mozart’s own oratorio, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, performed in 1767. Mozart only provided music for a single act, sharing the commission with Michael Haydn and Anton Adlgasser. Classical Opera are to make a recording of this for 2013 so it will be interesting to be able to compare the three composers side by side.

The aria itself, Ein ergrimmter Löwe brüllet (An Enraged Lion Roars) is a typical metaphor aria in da capo form where the middle section, with it’s reference to Mercy, is gentler and slower. While it can’t compare with later vocal number by Mozart it was a charming aria and showed that even at the age of eleven he could not only write confidently but had a clear understanding of the voice.

And Ms Piau imbued the aria with an emotional intensity that made you forget that this was in fact the work of a child – albeit it prodigy. I do hope that Ian Page has persuaded Ms Piau to participate.

I own – and I can’t recommend it enough – Ms Piau’s recital disc of Mozart arias with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Some of the arias from that disc she performed at Wigmore Hall and the first of these was Grazie al Numi … Nel grave tormento from Mitridate, re di Ponto, written by Mozart for Milan in 1771, a year before Lucio Silla.

Perhaps because it was a live performance, but compared to her rendition on the disc, that evening this aria seethed with emotion. And if anything, with the passage of time her voice had grown in terms of depth and lustre while at the same time losing neither its flexibility nor range. And the way she delivered the allegro coloratura – like bullets out of a gun – demonstrated her incredible technique.

Post the interval, Ms Piau returned for two arias from La Finta Giardinera – Geme la tortorella and Crudeli, oh Dio! Fermate … Ah dal pianto, dal singhiozzo. Written for the character of Sandrina, the are arias of contrasting emotions which Ms Piau carried off with both vocal and emotional aplomb. Similarly, in the second aria, Ms Piau handled the feisty accompagnato with a dramatic intensity that she carried into the ensuing aria.

In the first aria, supported by gentle yet precise playing from Classical Opera, Ms Piau demonstrated again that Mozart not only knew how to write for the voice but write with suitably tinged pathos.

I cannot admit to knowing all of Mozart’s symphonies and therefore the Orchestra of Classical Opera’s performance next of Symphony No. 27 in G Major was a nice surprise as I tend to start at Symphony No. 32 and move upwards. But this symphony is a real ‘Galant’ gem while at the same time acting as a precursor to the aforementioned symphony in many ways. The lilting triple time opening movement is followed by an gentle, almost rustic Andantino grazioso with rippling triplets and some delightful major-minor mode changes and some closing cadential humour. The contrapuntal final movement has distinct echoes of Mozart’s final symphony. It is definitely worth a listen.

Ms Piau then returned to the stage for her final two arias from Zaide. Ruhe sanft – with James Eastaway’s beguiling oboe obbligato – was taken at a speed slower than normal but not as slow as on her recital disc. Yet the tempo allowed Ms Piau to relish the vocal line especially in the melismas of the closing bars. Yet it was her performance of Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen which was almost the finest performance of the evening. Again the soprano inhabited the role from the first outburst but never let the emotion blur the purity of her singing.

I say it was almost the finest performance of the evening but Ms Piau delighted the audience with two superb encores.

The first was Mozart’s arrangement of Softly Sweet, In Lydian Measures from Handel’s Alexander’s Feast once again beautifully complemented by the obbligato playing of Jonathan Manson.

And with the second encore Ian Page informed the audience that he was sending us home “with death” – Verso gia l’alma col sangue from Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.

It was the ultimate lesson in how perfect a performance can be. Over the gentlest string accompaniment Ms Piau unwound the delicate vocal line with passionate intensity.

It was a most exquisite death and the perfect end to a perfect evening.

  1. Thanks so much for the great review. Just wondering whether you could update our orchestra name to “the Orchestra of Classical Opera” – we’re really looking forward to sharing this review with our supporters!

  2. […] Sandrine Piau literally wowed the audience of Wigmore Hall with her Mozart recital in October. Combining […]

  3. […] a decade – to the English version of 1718. As well as this aria there is the heart-stopping Verso gia l’alma col sangue and generally the music is beautifully […]

  4. […] I would have loved to have Ms Prina sing another slower as one of her encores as Ms Piau did with great effect when she performed at the venue, but I couldn’t complain when she returned […]

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