ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Regina coeli in C, K108; Regina coeli in B flat, K127; Exsultate, jubilate, K165; Sub tuum praesidium, K198; Vesperae solennes – Laudate Dominum; Sancta Maria, mater Dei, K273; Coronation Mass – Agnus Dei
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano); The King’s Consort & Choir/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67560
One of the best reasons for celebrating composer anniversaries is the opportunity that presents itself for exploring works that rarely appear in the usual run of recordings or concert performances. Mozart is a classic instance. Our listening experience even of this most famous and highly valued musical genius is usually confined to a relatively small part of his output – perhaps a hundred works out of a total of more than 600 to which have been given the accolade of ‘masterpiece’, and deservedly so. But what this means is that the majority of even Mozart’s compositions remains largely off the beaten track, except to those bent on an earnest exploration of early or neglected pieces, which in his case, at least, is possible, since the totality of Mozart has actually been recorded.
Among the works not generally heard, of course, are quite a few from the early part of his career that are not outstanding, except as evidence of the extraordinary talent he possessed as a child or teenager that matured into a genius that one might argue has been matched but never surpassed. But also amongst these earlier pieces are some that we undoubtedly deserve to hear more often that we do. One of the most attractive features of the present disc from Robert King and The King’s Consort is that their imaginatively conceived selection of well- and lesser-known sacred works blends the familiar with the unfamiliar to create a satisfying programme.
It begins and ends with two early settings of the antiphon Regina coeli, dating from 1771 and 1772. Neither of these crops up regularly, and because they were written when Mozart was in his mid-teens it would be easy to ignore them as immature. But in fact they both turn out to have been beautifully composed, the first in C major containing a particular highlight in the touching A minor aria ‘Ora pro nobis’, the second altogether brighter and breezier as a whole but no less memorable.
The other substantial piece is the much more familiar Exsultate, jubilate, written for the castrato Rauzzini in Milan in 1773, though it’s heard here in a later (1779) authentic version that substitutes the softer glow of flutes for the more vital hues of the original’s oboes.
Robert King and his choral and orchestral forces give clean and direct performances in sound that is nicely balanced and benefits from the mellow acoustic of London’s Cadogan Hall. The soprano focus of interest is Carolyn Sampson, whose musical sensibility and personality are exceptional, despite the apt restraint of her manner in this material. She’s also allowed to shine in such celebrated solos as the two versions of ‘Laudate dominum’ extracted from Mozart’s vesper settings, in addition to the Agnus Dei from the Coronation Mass, and duets delightfully with herself in the rare offertory Sub tuum praesidium. Unreservedly recommended.