Mozart in London: Works by Mozart, Arne, JC Bach, Abel, Arnold, Pescetti, Rush, Bates, Perez

Rebecca Bottone, Eleanor Dennis, Anna Devin, Martene Grimson, Ana Maria Labin, Helen Sherman, Ben Johnson, Robert Murray; Steven Devine; The Mozartists/Ian Page (Signum)

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Mozart in London Works by Mozart, Arne, JC Bach, Abel, Arnold, Pescetti, Rush, Bates, Perez
Rebecca Bottone, Eleanor Dennis, Anna Devin, Martene Grimson, Ana Maria Labin (soprano), Helen Sherman (mezzo-soprano), Ben Johnson, Robert Murray (tenor); Steven Devine (harpsichord); The Mozartists/Ian Page
Signum SIGCD 534 144:50 mins (2 discs)

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When the eight-year-old Mozart arrived in London in 1764, the city had long been a Mecca for top musicians. Composers and performers jostled to tap Europe’s largest audiences and their taste for wit, candour, charm and the sublime. The nobility panted after Italian singers; amateurs loved symphonies and oratorio; middling sorts asked for plainer fare. In London, with money, you were spoiled for choice.

For Mozart in London, originally a weekend of concerts and now a double album, director Ian Page directs not just works by Salzburg’s young prodigy but also those he might have heard. From the vast store of forgotten scores of this period, Page has nosed out the very best. We sample Thomas Arne’s oratorio Judith, opera seria from Perez to Bates, English-language comic opera, works by Johann Christian Bach – a strong influence on Mozart – and a symphony by Carl Friedrich Abel. Bold yet highly sensitive, Page and his musicians show what makes this music great. Page draws on a deep bench of young vocal talent; of his eight soloists, Rebecca Bottone and Robert Murray stand out especially for the ability, so prized in Mozart’s London, of getting across a dramatic character in just one air. Page’s band, The Mozartists, make the colours and expressiveness of overtures and symphonies leap off the page. Dashing around the keyboard, Steven Devine sparkles in one of those JC Bach concertos that became Mozart’s model.

Mozart later identified himself as an ‘out-and-out Englishman’; Page’s imagined musical album of Mozart’s 15-month stay in London shows how this could have come to be.

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Berta Joncus