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
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
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
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.