The Mozartists at Lichfield Cathedral


Lichfield Cathedral *****

Lichfield Festival has not always been lucky in its choice of visiting ensembles, but The Mozartists always looked like a good bet, and so they proved. Right now, this London-based period instrument orchestra is pretty much exactly where the action's at: a full, red-blooded ensemble sound, characterful, virtuosic wind and brass playing, and – under the direction of their founder Ian Page - performances that simply brim over with theatricality and flair.

But then, with programmes as appealing as this, why wouldn't they? Inspired by Mozart's youthful travels, the concert was bookended in typical eighteenth century style by a pair of early Mozart symphonies. In between came a triple helping of solo deliciousness. Oliver Wass played the harp and Katy Bircher the flute in Mozart's Concerto K.299, conducting a conversation of exquisite brightness and charm while behind them, Page and his orchestra gavotted seductively along.

Lovely stuff - but inevitably it paled beside the sound (and sight) of horn player Gavin Edwards' valve-free account of Mozart's Fourth Concerto. The technique of playing an 18th century hand horn is easy to understand in theory. Seeing it done in practice, and with such musicality and daring, is another matter altogether: a swashbuckling tour-de-force, with Edwards treating the tight, silvery tone of his stopped notes as a feature, not a bug.

It wouldn't be strictly true to say that the three arias sung by diva du-jour Louise Alder topped that, exactly: but hearing that huge, glowing voice garlanded by the blossoming woodwind solos of Se il padre perdei was, in its own way, almost as spine-tingling as the imperious, show-stopping coloratura of Bella mia fiamma. Impossible to pick a winner; let's just say that we were thoroughly spoilt.

Richard Bratby

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