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S & H Concert Review

MOSTLY MOZART: Mozart: Overture to ‘Die Zauberflöte,’ Clarinet Concerto, Requiem, Ave verum corpus: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Gerard Schwarz. Barbican, Saturday August 3rd. (ME)


It is fashionable, of course, to sneer at ‘Mostly Mozart,’ both in its new Barbican version here, and the original in New York, at present plagued by an unseemly industrial dispute. Some have suggested that perhaps other composers might be enlisted as title-bearers, along the lines, perhaps, of ‘Hardly any Haydn’ or ‘Suggestions of Schubert,’ but the fact remains that no one gets bums on seats quite as easily as Mozart, whatever the surroundings, and the packed house for this excellent concert attested to the merits of presenting an evening consisting only of works of genius, as opposed to the more usual London concert fare of a single great work, the hearing of which one is required to earn by the purgation of sitting through some fourth rate tosh which is instantly forgotten.

This judicious piece of programming gave us four immortal works all composed in the last year of Mozart’s life, beginning with the ‘Magic Flute’ overture in a performance which, for once, allowed us to hear a brass section at its noble, sonorous best in the ‘temple’ music. The sublime Clarinet Concerto followed, the soloist, Jon Manasse, being new to me; following the pattern of employing young and personable soloists for this series, here was a youthful, touchingly enthusiastic musician who simply played this over-exposed piece as though he were performing it for the first time, but without the tentativeness which might be expected if that had been the case. His fluid, tenderly expressive playing, particularly in the melancholy adagio, was superbly echoed by the mellifluous tone of the orchestra, and he was quite rightly given a rapturous reception, although he might have wished to have been spared the applause at the end of both the Allegro and Adagio.

The evening’s main work was the Requiem, for which the festival had assembled as fine a team of soloists as you could hope to hear anywhere. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus also gave a stunning performance, the clarity of diction and precision of attack, notably in the ‘Lux aeterna,’ being especially noteworthy, and Schwarz presented the work as the almost-opera which it really is, but without undue histrionics. Alan Ewing’s bass takes on a slightly gravely, sometimes buzzing tone under pressure, but he launched ‘Tuba mirum’ with gravitas and was a tower of strength in the ensembles. His tenor colleague, James Gilchrist, has a small, rather sweet voice which he uses with skill if never quite sounding entirely comfortable, but he, too, showed himself a real Mozartian during the ‘quartet’ passages. It would be difficult to imagine the soprano and alto parts being better taken than they were by Rosemary Joshua and Alice Coote; both sang with exquisitely even tone and skilful projection, Joshua providing evidence in every phrase that she is a soprano of rare elegance and sensitivity, and Coote thrilling with her entry during the ‘Sequentia’ and her cello-like tone during the ‘Benedictus.’

This deeply moving performance was directly followed by the sublime ‘Ave verum corpus,’ and what a wonderful way to close the musical part of the Festival this proved to be; I had earlier felt that only the ‘Requiem’ would be a fitting final work, but hearing this exquisite motet now reminded me once more that it encapsulates all of what we mean when we say ‘Mozart,’ holding within its brief compass all the fervour, nobility and heartbreaking depth of feeling just beneath the elegant surface which we associate with this composer, and bringing to mind at its close the matchless quintet ‘Deh,’ scrivermi ogni Giorno’ from ‘Cosi fan Tutte,’ first performed in the year before the death of the man who, as Rossini put it, ‘…is always adorable.’

Despite a persistent drizzle, the Festival concluded with a dazzling firework display on the lakeside terrace, sending everyone home in an even happier frame of mind than they had been at the concert’s close, and providing a fitting finale to a Festival which, despite the depredations of cynics, proved to be hugely successful and must now become a regular feature in London’s summer musical calendar.

 

Melanie Eskenazi


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