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`Mostly Mozart’ at the Barbican: Mozart, Symphony no. 40; Requiem, Soloists, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, dir. Louis Langrée, 9th July 2004 (ME)


‘Mostly mediocre’ would, unfortunately, be a more accurate title for this concert, although neither the works nor most of the performers were responsible for this. We’re being yelled at everywhere to the effect that Mostly Mozart is ‘…a howling success’ – would that be as in Howling Wolf, howling from those few members of the audience who don’t accept wanderers into the auditorium as a natural part of the beginning of an Andante, or howling because the whole thing is supported by Classic FM? At all events, where did most of the audience come from? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bums on seats, but I still can’t help wondering, especially when I was informed that a friend had been surrounded by drunks, snorers and (off-key) hummers.


We ‘kicked off’ – I suppose that’s what Classic FM would say, in one of those oily ‘I’m smiling while I speak’ voices – with the 40th, a bit of a nervous start which found the Academy in uncharacteristically reticent form. Things were bound to improve with the sublime second movement, but anyone who thought that, had obviously reckoned without the Barbican’s management, for the beginning of this miraculous music had been chosen as the perfectly OK moment to admit to the auditorium some 25 late-comers – worst of all, two of them noisily made their way to their own seats in the middle of the front row, and proceeded to argue with the people sitting on either side of them as to whose seats belonged to whom – not to mention the fact that an entire row had to be disturbed. One can’t simply berate the door staff, since as one of them said at the interval, ‘I didn’t want to let them in, but the management said I had to.’ One has to ask, who were these people? Caroline who makes the coffee? Samantha who provides various services for DeeJays? Certainly not genuine music lovers, to judge from their demeanour. One hates to harp on about this sort of thing, but in all my concert going years I have never seen a conductor so discomfited or an orchestra so put off – understandably so.


Nevertheless, both Louis Langrée and the Academy recovered to give a performance of great clarity and sweetness, if perhaps lacking a little in drama. The Minuet was the high point, with the Allegri not quite achieving the ideal verve although the clarinets stood out with their edge and confidence. It wasn’t a bad presentation, just a little dull where it ought to have been fiery, and a little withdrawn where it ought to have been forthright.


Most of the audience clearly knew the Requiem from the scene in the film of Amadeus representing the bogus composition of the work, with Salieri acting as amanuensis, and of course the Confutatis is instantly loveable as well as recognizable. The orchestra acquitted itself with some distinction here, but the problem was the usually excellent choir, Polyphony – more used, and suited, to venues such as St. John’s Smith Square, its normally incisive, dramatic sound became woolly and indistinct in the Barbican, depriving the music of some of its necessary fervour. Amongst the soloists, Lisa Milne’s Lux aeterna and Andrew Foster Williams’ Tuba mirum were notable, but I found Karen Cargill rather pale, and whilst John Mark Ainsley displayed his customary musicality, sweetness of tone and directness, his singing was not as confident as it normally is at the top of the stave.


The evening culminated with a splendid display of fireworks on the lakeside terrace, showing that the Barbican could really be a joyous place – perhaps it will be when the current renovations are complete, but I’m not holding my breath until some small miracles occur, namely – the whole place becoming non-smoking, the chosen designer having some idea as how to make restricted spaces appear filled with light, and of course, someone helping the management to understand that the beginning of a slow movement is not an appropriate pause during which to admit late-comers.


Melanie Eskenazi


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