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Newcastle Bach Choir puts its spring spotlight on Mozart at The Sage Gateshead

Bach will take a back seat this weekend as the choir formed in his honour takes its inspiration from elsewhere. David Whetstone reports

Newcastle Bach Choir at The Sage Gateshead
Newcastle Bach Choir at The Sage Gateshead

Members of the Newcastle Bach Choir will line up on the biggest stage at Sage Gateshead at the weekend and shine the spotlight brightly on... Mozart!

Surely some mistake? But no. It seems the choir regularly ventures ‘off piste’ to perform music by other composers and you would like to think the mighty Johann Sebastian would understand.

JS Bach died in 1750, just six years before another musical genius – young Wolfgang Amadeus – first drew breath and, pretty soon afterwards, starting composing works that would change the world.

Saturday’s all-Mozart programme in Hall One, with top-notch soloists including Kitty Whately (daughter of Kevin) and Mhairi Lawson, includes the overture ‘Don Giovanni’, the solo motet Exsultate Jubilate and the great unfinished Requiem.

The choir – and you could call them spoilsports – tell us that many myths have been built up around Mozart’s Requiem, one of them given credence by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus which was made into a memorable Oscar-winning film.

In the film we see the sinister and spectral ‘dark stranger’ who commissioned, or whose boss commissioned, the troubled Mozart to write the Requiem that he would never quite finish.

In reality, say the choir, the shadowy patron was one Count Franz von Walsegg, who liked to commission composers and then pass off their work as his own.

Whatever the truth, Mozart left us with a wonderful, spine-tingling piece of work.

On Saturday the choir might surprise fans of the Requiem. Rather than perform the setting that was finished by Mozart’s pupil, Franz Süssmayr, conductor Prof Eric Cross has opted for a version by contemporary British composer and musicologist Duncan Druce.

There may be moments, says Prof Cross, when one wonders “Would Mozart really have done that?” but he reckons it is a skilful and satisfying completion of the Requiem which deserves to be heard alongside the Süssmayr version from 200 years earlier.

Duncan Druce will give a talk about his Requiem setting at 6.30pm, before the 7.30pm concert.

Soprano Mhairi Lawson, who went to Newcastle University and is no stranger to the Sage’s Hall One, has had a distinguished career as a soloist, performing in opera houses and concert halls worldwide and specialising in early music.

Mezzo soprano Kitty Whately is still up-and-coming but a glittering career beckons for the daughter of one of our most popular actors. She is currently one of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation artists and engagements around the world await.

Joining the pair on stage will be James Oxley, tenor, and Barnaby Rea, bass. Providing orchestral accompaniment will be the Newcastle Classical Players on their period instruments.

This is a big occasion for the choir, which has always been based at the music department of Newcastle University, but next year promises to be a very big year.

The choir was founded in 1915 by the musicologist and Bach scholar WG Whittaker with the aim of reviving the composer’s cantatas, then all but neglected.

Centenary celebrations are already taking shape. Bach, I think it’s safe to say, will be resuming his due position in the spotlight in 2015.

Tickets for Saturday’s concert in Hall One of Sage Gateshead can be bought from the box office on 0191 443 4661, by emailing ticketoffice@sagegateshead.com or at www.sagegateshead.com

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