Shame about the belt-tightening. Of course, the cost of hiring musicians adds more to the bill than a ha’porth of tar but there’s no getting away from it: The Sixteen’s work in this attractive concert was spoilt by a shortage of violins and some uneven solo contributions from members of the choir.

The Sixteen
© Firedog

The choral singing was as exhilarating as we’ve come to expect from this virtuoso group, whether rending the air in the Dixit Dominus from Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore or dancing irresistibly through the Creation-flavoured Quoniam tu solus sanctus in Haydn’s Nelson Mass. The dynamic Harry Christophers has built The Sixteen into a choral colossal that transcends the number in its name (for the record there were 23 Sixteen choristers on the night, although this dwindled to 19 whenever a quartet of soloists stepped forward) and under his direction they invariably deliver bold, crisp and cohesive professional performances.

The orchestra was a crack band of players too; however, that violin issue proved critical from the outset in Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, a performance whose corpus and internal balance would have benefited from a couple more fiddle desks. Christophers was attentive to dynamics – some of his hairpins were distinctly sharp-elbowed – but the dearth of upper strings thwarted his desired impact. With more amplitude the violins would have chugged less starkly in the Laudate Pueri of the Vespers and swung more freely in Haydn’s aforementioned Quoniam; more to the point, the listener would have registered their presence during climactic passages. Instead they were regularly swamped.

Such imperfections only served to highlight the excellence of the very best in this concert. The choir yielded two outstanding soloists in Rebecca Leggett (mezzo-soprano) and Jeremy Budd (tenor), both experienced concert artists of course, and it’s unfortunate that neither of them had enough to do. Katy Hill won the lottery when she got to sing every soprano’s Mozartian dream, Laudate Dominum, but sadly the composer’s vital trills defeated the singer, a disappointment exacerbated by Christophers’ choice of an oddly breezy tempo that nullified the movement’s beauty.

The Nelson Mass is perhaps Haydn’s greatest liturgical setting. It is certainly his most exciting. The orchestra’s pair of Baroque trumpeters (there was no programme from which to name them, alas) worked like gangbusters throughout and joined with the kettledrums to conjure a military undertow that shook the hall when they rang forth at full volume in the Benedictus. In an evening of highs and lows that was up with the best.