It's still Mozart time, and for the first half-hour of the Academy of Ancient Music's late tribute, it was barrel-scraping time, too. The symphony in F that he wrote for London when he was nine, unfortunately rediscovered 25 years ago, has little interest except its composer's habits: already he made the middle parts of the outer movements a vehicle for small surprises. Seven years on and up to Symphony No 17, he did the same trick with more style and grace. But what vapid stuff, played with an earnest precision that just about held attention between the show-off bits.
Patently, Mozart knew his voices by then. Add a singer, and material springs to life with startling sensuality. He wrote the motet Exsultate, jubilate less than a year later, and even before its spectacular "Alleluia" finale, it has character and confidence. Carolyn Sampson sang it with a sparky brightness, and the audience, which had so far responded politely, sat right up and cheered.
For its second half, the concert rose to another level. First came the unusual but not unique ploy - Tavener and Woolrich have done it before - of giving a period-style orchestra a new piece. The rationale behind commissioning Thea Musgrave was to give whoever sang the Mozart motet, which is quite short, something complementary for the same concert. Journey into Light, first performed in Southampton this May, does that: it is a setting of three old Scottish poems about death that turn briefly to the thought of salvation, and gloom predominates at first in the music.
But it is a deadpan sort of gloom. And Musgrave's enjoyment of baroque wind-honks and non-vibrato string-whines subverts the professed emotions. But her sense of orchestral colour also comes into its own when offsetting a voice, and in the expansive lyrical lines of the next poem and the hauntingly harmonised refrain of the third, the music turns darker, the feeling more direct.
A real Mozart symphony followed it. The Academy, which has become more robust in style than in its early days, responded with an energised performance. Symphony No 33 - surprisingly rare in light of its quality - gave it plenty to savour.Reuse content