Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday June 24 2011.
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Sally Matthews, soprano. Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-soprano. Rainer Trost, tenor. Nahuel di Pierro, bass. Le Cercle de l'Harmonie. Choeur Les Eléments.
I thought I’d better dash off a brief account of last night’s Mozart concert today, as tomorrow I have five hours of Meyerbeer in Brussels and may find myself with a lot more to write about. The magnificent C Minor Mass, so magnificent even I have a recording of it, was preceded by the smaller-scale and less magnificent Solemn Vespers, though they do contain one smash hit for the soprano.
I was, for once (and by accident; if I’d paid more attention I would have chosen seats elsewhere), on the front row. This naturally brings you a bit too close for comfort to the people on stage - at such close range they are all too human: you can see the un-hemmed trousers, the hairy nostrils, the state of their shoes (in baroque orchestras, usually terrible) the odd socks, etc - and ruins the balance; so the chorus, who were rather remote for me, on the other side of the orchestra, sometimes lacked a degree of the oomph they no doubt had for people in more sensible seats.
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie is visibly a youngish baroque orchestra, its members looking and dressed as if they’d been raised on locally-produced, organic (and probably vegetarian) fare. There’s safety in numbers, and whereas in smaller configuration for the Vespers they were sometimes cruelly exposed, in the Mass they made the deep, richly-coloured, crunchy sound I prefer by far in Mozart to smooth, silky modern orchestras. The wind and brass sections, the old trombones especially, had that extra fear-of-death factor that is so impressive in “historically-informed” performances of funereal works. And overall I didn't feel, as I have in the past with Rhorer, that there was any shortage of liveliness.
Côté solistes, we couldn’t have been luckier with our ladies. Not that there was anything at all wrong with the gents but they had little to do all evening except sit and look interested; indeed, bringing in Reiner Trost for so little was surely quite a luxury. The women’s voices were highly contrasting, each corresponding, curiously, with the dresses they wore. Ann Hallenberg was in a generously flowing, low-cut dress of old rose shot silk overlaid with flowery fabric, and an airy cream stole. She was radiant as usual and looked as if she was enjoying every minute. Sally Matthews was, on the other hand, narrowly buttoned-up in part medieval, part bondage black with multiple belts and just a hint of crinoline emerging from a gap, down where the buttons were left open towards the hem of her tunic. Her hair was very, very neatly bobbed (living in Paris, how I miss the precise cut of English hairdressers, but that’s off topic of course) and she looked as if she found the whole evening rather tense and trying.
So, while Ann’s singing was warm and round and easy, liquid, generous, and flowing, Ms Matthews’, though very good indeed (I see she’s now a much-admired Fiordiligi), was cooler, drier, less nuanced and, most of the time (there were occasional exceptions: there was, after all, a hint of crinoline and netting peeking out of that severe designer dress) more strait-laced. But she did, after all, once the loud applause turned rhythmic during the curtain calls (if a mass may be said to have such things), eventually break into a smile, albeit a rather English one.