What the eight-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart must have thought of London during his first and only visit to the English capital between 1764-1765. Neither he, nor his 12-year-old sister Nannerl, nor his father Leopold, nor his mother Anna Maria, had even seen the ocean before, when they set out from Calais. But everyone during their Grand Tour of Europe insisted they must visit London, and the 15-month stay was in some ways to be the making of Mozart, musically speaking.
Not only was Mozart to meet the great JC Bach – ‘the London Bach’ – who would have such an influence on his style, and who would remain a close friend for the rest of Mozart’s life; it was in London that he would be exposed to an enormous amount of other composers’ music from around the globe; it was in London, too, that he would write his first three symphonies, and his first aria for voice and orchestra.
Despite the number of public performances Mozart and Nannerl were obliged to give (they even performed three times privately for the King and Queen), the family found time to frequent the salons and the three theatres where opera was performed: King’s Theatre, Haymarket and the Theatres Royal at Covent Garden and Drury Lane.
They might or might not have heard Abel’s Symphony in E Flat, or JC Bach’s Harpsicord Concerto in D, Op. 1, No 6, or George Rush’s Overture to The Capricious Lovers, or arias by Arne, JC Bach, Duni, Arnold, William Bates and Davide Perez. But one thing is certain: thanks to the indefatigable Ian Page and his Mozartists, we can.
Recorded during their Mozart in London festival back in 2015, this 2CD set is a joy from start to finish. It is also a document of the first series of concerts of Mozart 250, a 27-year project which sees Page, his singers and band “following the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, work and influences” by performing and recording each year “the music of Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously”.
What a wonderful idea. And what wonderful performances by sopranos Rebecca Bottone, Eleanor Dennis, Anna Devin, Marlene Grimson, Ana Maria Labin; mezzo Helen Sherman; tenors Ben Johnson and Robert Murray; harpsichordist Steven Devine; and The Mozartists, all conducted by Page.
The confident, ebullient period style for which Page and his Classical Opera are known is of course here. But this is also as vivid a musical portrait of London during a particular time in its history that one could hope for. To paraphrase Johnson, were one to tire of The Mozartists, one would surely be tired of life.
Composer: Mozart, JC Bach, Arne, Arnold, Pescetti, Rush, Bates, Perez, Abel
Performer: Classical Opera, The Mozartists, Ian Page
Catalogue Number: Signum SIGCD534 (2CD)
Mozart in London is Limelight‘s Recording of the Month in September. Read our interview with Ian Page here.