Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court
Peter Bassano

Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court

Leader: Thomas Gould
Music Director: Peter Bassano

Debut of a new orchestra - an innovative concept to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth

Saturday 20th May 7.30
St George's Church, RAF Halton, Wendover

Ida Falk Winland (Idamante), Michelle Sheridan (Elettra), David Webb (Idomeneo)

See below for review

Krafft portrait of Mozart

Portrait of Mozart by Krafft

The dress rehearsal for the first performance of Idomeneo in Munich took place on Mozart's twenty fifth birthday the 27th January 1781, the premiere was two days later. This opera marked Mozart's first collaboration with the Mannheim Orchestra. This encounter with the outstanding instrumentalists of the age gave Mozart an ensemble that could perform to his highest exacting standards. Unlike the mediocre talents of so many of the Salzburg musicians, members of the Mannheim orchestra were each virtuosi in their own right and frequently performed concertante works with two or more of them taking solo roles. Just as Mozart's vocal writing was greatly influenced by the personal qualities of his individual singers so in Idomeneo his pioneering instrumental writing was inspired by the technical prowess of the Mannheim players. 1756 was not only the year in which Wolfgang was born it is also the year in which his father Leopold Mozart published his famous treatise on violin playing Versuch einer gr√ľndlichen Violinschule.

The establishment of orchestras like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English Baroque Soloists and Academy of Ancient Music, playing on period instruments in period style provided a clear answer to problems over the modern performance of classical composers but simultaniously created a situation where it was impossible to hear anything other than 'classical' music in their programmes, removing choice for an audience to hear later repertoire in the same concert. The innovation which the Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court provides is that of a collection of players steeped in the classical style of instrumental technique who have the ability to chamelion-like transform their playing to 'post-Kreisler' mode for the performance of later repertoire. What better celebration of the composer's life than to form a new chamber orchestra, similar in size and virutoso ability to that at Mannheim? The Wendover Choral Society is proud to host the debut of the Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court, an orchestra of outstanding young players, many of whom have been prizewinners or finalists in national and international competitions.

Click the moth for music
Click the family moth to hear Bassano conducting the Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court in the first movement of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony.
Click the moth for music
Click the family moth to hear Bassano conducting Michelle Sheridan (Idamante), Ida Falk Winland (Elettra) and David Webb (Idomeneo) with the Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court in the Terzetto from Act 2 of Mozart's Idomeneo.

Next Concert

Saturday 9th December
St Mary's Church, Wendover

Soprano Soloist: Ida Falk Winland

Mozart concert at RAF Halton: Review by John Fingleton

2006 marks, as most of the world now knows, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and celebrations have been, are being, and will, for the rest of the year be, held everywhere where music is recognised and appreciated. But nowhere, perhaps, will it be more imaginatively or more pleasurably celebrated than in Wendover, Buckinghamshire [last] Saturday, 20th May.

Peter Bassano, has been Musical Director of the Wendover Choral Society for five years. In that time he has brought it up to a remarkable level of proficiency, containing as it now does around 50 enthusiasts, of all ages and talents, who have been honed into a well-oiled unit.

For his approach to celebrating possibly the world's greatest composer's anniversary, Bassano had the imaginative concept of recreating the style of orchestra that had stood head and shoulders amongst its peers in 18th century Salzburg: the Mannheim Orchestra, in those long-gone days, comprised musicians who were virtuosi in their own right and frequently performed concertante works, with players also taking solo roles. And so it was that, in Wendover, on Saturday night, 20th May, the newly-formed "Virtuosi of the Mannheim Court" orchestra made its debut, numbering 36 fine young musicians, ranging in age from mid-teens to probably no more than mid-20s, and led with sparkling panache and style by Thomas Gould. Many of the players have themselves been prize-winners or finalists in international and national competitions - and, by chance, were making their appearance on the very evening that another crop of brilliant youngsters were staking their claim to future fame, and perhaps membership of the "VMC", in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition.

And, to complete the picture, or perhaps the score, were three young, brilliant and hugely impressive soloist singers, in sopranos Ida Falk Winland and Michelle Sheridan, and tenor David Webb, each, even at their tender ages, with career performances and accomplishments so far to die for.

A further imaginative touch was the location - how enjoyable it was to experience the juxtaposition of such balmy period music within the almost 'state-of-the-art' contemporary surroundings of St George's Church at RAF Halton, just outside Wendover. The excellent sight lines and acoustics served to make a happy evening that much more pleasurable.

The programme devised by Bassano was equally inspired, covering much of the gamut of Mozart's prolific output, from symphony through opera to religious choral work - perhaps all that was missing was an instrumental (as opposed to a vocal) concerto! The programme started off with the choir's placid rendering of Ave Verum Corpus, the short, Eucharistic hymn first performed on Corpus Christus Day in June 1791, just a few months before Mozart's own death, and written for Baden Choirmaster Anton Stoll. A gentle awakening for the packed audience, before moving on to another of his later works, his final, 41st, Symphony, The Jupiter. Quite a contrast here, with a very firm and grand introduction, perhaps less light of heart and more deliberate than often heard, but quickly introducing a broad balance of fine orchestral playing, with luscious strings and particularly resonant brass - one would expect no less from such a source!

After the interval, an adroit balance of operatic and religious music filled the bill, starting with the Finale from Act 2 of Idomeneo, Re di Creta, which introduced the three soloists to the proceedings, with fine dramatic purpose and beautiful singing - particularly from Swedish-born but lately British-trained Ida Falk Winland who, astonishingly, apparently only took up singing a mere 10 years ago, in her teens, after earlier studying both 'cello and piano. Even in its static performance - and Bassano has been known to use movement as well at his annual choral concerts - the sense of drama was well conveyed, with fine support and riposte from Sheridan and Webb.

The final part of the evening was, inevitably, its highlight - a brilliant and emotional performance of the C Minor Mass, in its original, and incomplete, form. Having made a promise to his father Leopold, just before his marriage to Constanze in 1782 that, having written half of the work, he would definitely complete it, sadly, for posterity's sake, it was a promise that Mozart failed to keep; and, whilst scholars since have attempted to interpret his intentions and orchestrate the blank patches, Bassano determined to perform the work in its original form - and nothing was lost by that. Once again, both choir and soloists provided fine performances, with the orchestra meeting them every inch of the way. The harpsichord continuo of young James Southall was particularly beautiful and the clear and enthusiastic direction of Conductor Peter Bassano brought the whole evening to a joyous, if solemn, close.