By Jim Ruggirello
What were you doing when you were 8 years old?
Well, if you were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, you were writing your Symphony No. 1, which opened Musica Angelica’s all-Mozart concert the other night at the Beverly O’Neill Theater.
The musical world, or the world in general, has seen few at Mozart’s level of genius. In his 35-year life he wrote more than 600 works, some of them the most profound, transcendent and magical operas, symphonies, sacred music, and chamber pieces ever composed.
Good thing he started young. This first symphony, written when he was either 7, 8, or 9 depending on who you talk too, is not one of those transcendent works; he was a prodigy, but not yet a genius. But it is a good example of an early Classical era symphony, well crafted, with more than a spark of originality and signs of an individual mind.
Musica Angelica director Martin Haselböck assembled an appropriately small ensemble for this concert — 7 violins, pairs of violas, cellos, oboes, and horns, a string bass and a bassoon — and led them in brisk, tidy, stylish performances. The size of the group, along with the period instruments (including natural horns and Baroque oboes), made for a delicious sound.
Concertmaster Ilia Korol, whose expressive face and body language are enjoyable features of his performances, played the Violin Concerto No. 2. By the time he wrote this, Mozart was a wily veteran of 18, and exhibiting a growing mastery of compositional technique. The work is not as well-known or often-performed as Nos. 3, 4, and 5, and I don’t know why. Korol is a master, and the piece is a gem.
Soprano Sherezade Panthaki’s voice is not what we usually hear in the motet “Exsultate, jubilate,” and took some getting used to. Her coloratura was not as clean as I like, and I thought her perky personality a tad out of place in this sacred work. This, by the way, is a minority report; the audience loved her performance and gave her a standing ovation.
After intermission, the concert aria “Voi avete un cor fedele” found her in more congenial territory and I take back everything I said. Her large, warm, beautiful voice soared over the vocal lines, and the coloratura, which didn’t zig and zag as much as in the motet, was perfectly executed. Her expressivity found its outlet in this text and was absolutely delightful. If she hasn’t yet sung the role of the Countess in “The Marriage of Figaro,” she should.
And by the time he got around to the Symphony No. 29, Mozart was in full command of his gifts, and his genius was in full bloom. Here the inner voices speak eloquently, the proportions are just so, the themes have an individual character and are well put together, and the charming Andante is a highlight.
The group calls itself Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, but this concert showed that it and the music of the early Classical period, Mozart in particular, are made for each other.