MOZART Bastien und Bastienne. Grabmusik (Page)
While Bastien und Bastienne is not a work you will encounter very often, the real rarity here is the Grabmusik, composed when Mozart was 11 years old. The tradition of performing a sacred piece near a representation of Christ’s tomb during Holy Week goes back to medieval times; this short cantata was probably performed in Salzburg Cathedral in April 1767. Scored for strings and horns, it consists of a dialogue between a Soul and an Angel, each of whom has a secco recitative and an aria, before a final duet preceded by an accompanied recitative for the Soul. The burden of the anonymous text is the Soul lamenting the death of Christ and the Angel offering him consolation.
The opening aria is astonishing: a baroque ‘rage’ number in D major, with a D minor middle section that moves via E flat to a cadence in E minor. There are staccato high notes and vigorous triplets, all of which Jacques Imbrailo dispatches admirably. With its dramatic pauses and G minor tonality, the Angel’s aria has a touch of Sturm und Drang (Haydn’s Symphony No 39 in the same key is exactly contemporary). The horns are silent but Mozart enriches the texture with divided violas. In the duet, the Soul’s repeated cries of ‘Ah, what have I done?’ finally give way to acceptance and resolution. The recitative and chorus that Mozart added later are omitted.
Anna Lucia Richter, the Angel, turns up again as Bastienne in Mozart’s little Singspiel. Based on a parody of Rousseau’s Le devin du village, it was commissioned by Dr Mesmer, a family friend, at whose house in Vienna it was performed in 1768. The story is a simple one. Bastienne, a shepherdess, is grieved that her lover has abandoned her for a noblewoman. Colas, practising as a sorcerer, assures her of Bastien’s love but advises her to feign rejection when her erring swain returns. After some hocus-pocus and Bastien’s vowing to kill himself, the lovers are reconciled. The music is simple, too, looking forward here and there to Blonde in Die Entführung. Bastien’s ‘Meiner Liebsten schöne Wangen’ is a graceful minuet, flutes replacing the oboes. Colas casts his spells in a violent C minor outburst; it is repeated in the Appendix with different nonsense words.
It only remains to add that Ian Page and his crack team – singers and players – are clearly having a lot of fun, which comes across in this excellent recording. It’s a treat to experience these faint anticipations of greatness in such winning performances.