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Mozart:  Symphony no. 40 in G minor, K550; Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor, K491; Requiem in D minor, K626. Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Mitsuko Uchida, soloists, cond. Sir Charles Mackerras. Royal Festival Hall, 12 June, 2005 (ME)



This all-Mozart programme drew a capacity crowd for an elegant evening of high class orchestral playing and superb choral singing, although the evening’s solo stars were not at their absolute best. The 40th is perhaps Mozart’s most anguished, ‘romantic’ symphony, but you would never have known it from this performance, which was as much sweetness and contentment as if Haydn had written it. Einstein would probably not have characterized parts of the first and final movements as ‘plunges into the abyss of the soul’ if he could have heard this open, warm and shapely evocation of them – nothing wrong with that, it was just that it came as a surprise when I’m sure that the real astonishment was meant to be reserved for the new completion of the Requiem. No fault could be found with the playing or direction, the touching slow movement being especially fine.


The 24th Piano Concerto is of course also regarded as a very ‘romantic’ piece, and here the performance positively indulged that; you either like Mitsuko Uchida’s facial quiverings and grimaces, and her general air of waif-like contortionism, or you don’t – I don’t, but of course she has few equals in terms of the sensitivity of her phrasing, the poetic gentleness of her touch and the no-holds barred commitment of her union with the orchestra, who gave her the most wonderful support imaginable. The evening’s best performance, both solo and orchestral, came in the heavenly opening bars of the Adagio.


The Requiem has always been contentious by its very nature – one of the greatest things made by man in the whole of the eighteenth century, but by which man was it made in its entirety? Constanze Mozart’s desire to obtain Count Walsegg’s fee drove her to have the work completed in secret after the composer’s death, and the version we hear most often in concert is that completed by Süssmayr. This evening’s version, and the very scholarly accompanying essay, was provided by Robert Levin, who has done quite a lot more than what he modestly describes as averting infelicities. The main problem with this was that what he had obviously aimed to achieve was not always helped by the way in which the work was directed: for example, Levin’s ‘version’ tries, and admirably succeeds, to lighten the orchestral texture at certain key moments, but then the singers were placed well back from their usual places at the front of the platform so that they still had problems with what Levin calls functioning ‘as the expressive focus of the work.’


It was in the Lacrimosa and the Benedictus that the new version seemed most powerfully different: the former now leading into a non-modulating fugue, and the latter, although it retained the vocal quartet, quite different in emphasis to the ‘normal’ version. Levin had also composed a new Hosanna fugue, derived from the C minor mass, a daringly ambitious decision which was justified by its quality. The light tinkerings with the Agnus Dei I could have dispensed with. The superb Philharmonia Chorus rose to every challenge, their Dies Irae as terrifying as it ought to be and their Confutatis weighted with drama. Partly due to their positioning, the soloists fared less well: Peter Rose did not quite have the sonorous quality needed for Tuba mirum, and both Susan Gritton and John Mark Ainsley experienced uncomfortable moments, most notably in the Benedictus, although both also gave us some very beautiful singing, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers displaying her finely burnished tone to advantage in the ensemble passages.


An evening of highly charged musical drama, gratifyingly well supported – of course demonstrating that you will get a full house if you provide that perfect marriage of top flight orchestra, conductor and soloists with genuinely great works. The Festival Hall is soon to be ‘closed for refurbishment’ – I would prefer them to knock it all down and begin again, but it was good to be reminded that it can still give room to concerts of real quality.



Melanie Eskenazi




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)