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Haydn and Mozart

Haydn: Flute Trio in D HXV16; Arianna a Naxos for mezzo-soprano and piano; String Quartet in Bb Op 76 No 4 'Sunrise'

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 14 in Eb K 449 (version for piano and string quartet);  Flute Quartet in . 285b



Nash Ensemble:
Christine Rice
- mezzo-soprano
Philippa Davies
- flute
Ian Brown
- piano


Wigmore Hall 16 May 2009

Judging by the sizeable exodus after Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos, a good many people had come to the concert in order to hear Christine Rice sing this item, so I’m going to deal with that first. 

It’s something of a Cinderella piece – a “cantata” for just one voice and piano – which by all the rules of conventional wisdom, should have sunk into obscurity a century or two ago.  It hasn’t, because it’s a composition of rare quality where the words and music perfectly match the reactions of a woman who wakes, expecting to find her husband beside her, only to discover first his absence and then the fact that he has sailed away leaving her abandoned on a deserted island. 

Christine Rice is a singer for whom I have enormous respect.  She possesses a voice of real warmth and charm, which she can deploy with total security from top to bottom of the range.  She is also a natural theatre animal and she gave Arianna  the big treatment, full volume and  unrestrained gestures that would have worked well on the stage of any major opera house. 


What she appeared to forget was the refined acoustic of the Wigmore Hall and, more importantly, that Arianna has retained its place in the hearts of singers and audiences because it is one of those works where the scale is small enough to allow the singer to play with her voice, subtly colouring it to reflect each shift in awareness of her situation and emotions.  I loved the “power and glory” of the performance I saw, but would have welcomed, and probably preferred, the detail and subtlety of a more restrained approach.


The Haydn trio that opened proceedings was sprightly and elegant with clear rapport between the players as tempo accelerated to the finale.  The Mozart concerto that followed, shorn of its ad libitum wind and brass instruments, and with the piano placed at the rear of the platform, relegated that instrument from primacy, and seemed more like a quintet with the piano as just another instrument in the mix.


After the interval Mozart’s Quartet for flute and strings, with its theme and rather melancholy variations in the second movement, seemed to me to set the scene perfectly, both musically and emotionally for the Arianna that was to follow.  The finale, Haydn’s Sunrise quartet, was sheer bliss – gorgeous intertwining tunes superbly played by members of the Nash Ensemble.


Serena Fenwick