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S & H Prom Review

PROM 37: Mozart, Brahms Miah Persson (soprano); Peter Mattei (baritone); Eric Ericsson Chamber Choir; Swedish Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck, Royal Albert Hall, Friday, August 15th, 2003 (CC)

Manfred Honeck took on the role of Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchsetra in 2000. Frequent visitors to the UK, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra has obviously garnered quite a following, if the packed audience was anything to go by. Expectations must have been high; in the event, impressions were decidedly mixed.

Mozart’s carefully wrought textures have a tendency to muddy in the Kensington Kavern anyway, so it was a pity that they were not even carefully delineated in the first place. Accents were blunted and ensemble was not always together, two traits that made the exposition repeat in the first movement of Mozart No. 40 dispensable (the development was most welcome when it came). So often, ensemble was almost together, but not quite.

Honeck’s speed for the Andante was extremely swift, projecting little peace. It was disquieting rather than revelatory and Honeck’s decision, on occasion, to subdivide his beat into six at this pulse simply looked clumsy and uncomfortable. Minuet and Trio were taken at identical speeds and the final Allegro assai rounded off a middle-of-the-road performance, serviceable but ultimately non-descript.

Things did, however, take a decided turn for the better in Brahms’ well-loved Ein deuteches Requiem. Smallish choral forces (no packing them up and beyond the organ loft here) meant that Brahms’ magnificent part-writing could be enjoyed to the full. The combination of expansive tempi with a light-toned choir meant that the first movement (‘Selig sind’) had the feeling of an organic unfolding, as natural and inevitable as could be.

And these traits summed up much of the rest of the performance. The second movement, ‘Denn alles Fleisch’, which dwells on the transitory nature of life, carried a monumental aspect that suited the Royal Albert Hall well. The big arrival at the restatement of the opening lines of text, however, was impressive rather than truly cataclysmic: a shame, given the evident care that had gone into the dynamic gradations of the approaching crescendi.

Peter Mattei, whose lovely sound graced ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’, successfully managed to convey the difficult balancing act of power harnessed to humility. In the sixth movement, he shone, all but spitting out the final ‘k’ of ‘Augenblick’, his defiance complete.

The soprano, Miah Persson, supported by a very delicate accompaniment in ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’, was perhaps not quite as ideal, not quite angelic enough in her Biblical reassurances. Nevertheless, her singing was full of communicative power. She is a young soprano with plenty of potential and I look forward very much to hearing her again and charting her career course.

A pity weak tenors marred the final movement (when, musically, the piece turns full circle), but this was not enough to blight a highly memorable account. Certainly much more impressive than I had forecast after the Mozart.

Colin Clarke



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