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Mozart Symphony 40 in G minor and Rossini Stabat Mater:  London Philharmonic Orchestra / London Philharmonic Choir / Paolo Olmi conductor, QEH, London 23.11.05 (ED)

Lucia Aliberti soprano

Francesca Provvisionato mezzo-soprano

David Alegret tenor

Manrico Signorini bass

This concert could have been so much more than it was – and should have been to, particularly as it was dedicated to the memory of Patric Schmidt, guiding light of Opera Rara records, who died suddenly on 6 November.

As to why this concert fell below expectations by some way, the reasons differed for each work. The Mozart fell victim perhaps to lack of rehearsal time. Not that this is reason enough – Mozart’s 40th is a work so well known that any orchestra should be able to have a passable performance at their fingertips with some ‘topping and tailing’ from any conductor. Indeed, I have known it substitute a concerto – sight-read with no rehearsal time – when a soloist suffered a last minute mishap.

Whatever the rehearsal situation though, Olmi’s direction was more concerned with the driving power of the work rather than the subtlety within it. As a result, the string tone was bland and generalised when it might have glistened in delight at the individual lines constructing the whole. In fortissimo things occasionally verged on the strident, and although shading and subtlety was there it played no major part. The opening Allegro showed care for the bass line, but little for the arching structure enlivened as a whole by brass and woodwind whose presence appeared an afterthought through insufficient projection. Similarly so in the Andante. The Minuet and Trio fairly strutted along though at times a touch heavy-footed in its step. The Finale pressed on with speed the over-riding criterion at expense of wit, beauty or acknowledgement of the works sheer audacious originality. Brass, finally of due presence, brought a muscular end to proceedings. The wag in the row behind me said it all (literally) to his friend: “It’s Mozart, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Rossini’s Stabat Mater is a greatly undervalued work – possibly a situation that Rossini himself was to blame for historically, though why it is not taken up more often now is remains a mystery to me.  Containing great melody, inventiveness, orchestral, choral and solo parts it remains, I would suggest, as powerful a setting of the Stabat Mater as exists since Pergolesi’s – whose work Rossini admired greatly.

Olmi evidentially has much Rossini experience, and many of the problems that beset the Mozart were thankfully absent or considerably lessened. The opening announced a greater flow and sensitivity between orchestral parts, and more homogenised tone too. The choir too made their presence keenly felt in a performance that was in overall terms sensitively executed on their part. The quartet of soloists – comprising three Italians and a Spaniard (tenor) of reasonable achievement – however remained the one area of considerable weakness. When reasonably covered by orchestra and / or chorus problems were understandably minimised, but Rossini allots each voice an important role to play.

The Cujus animam – melodically at least one of the most beautiful sections – found Alegret’s tenor weakened particularly at the top, possibly by a throat infection. Mostly though he sang heroically, just about getting away with the pushed high notes, and made what little he could of the text’s admittedly narrow room for manoeuvre. Later, in the Sancta Mater, he showed suitable plaintive qualities, when less pushed vocally.

Blending of tone between violins and brass was a notable feature of the Qui es homo. Lucia Aliberti and Francesca Provvisionato were somewhat ill-matched vocally. With Aliberti heavily text bound and almost unwilling to sing beyond the first row, and seeming to cover her tone or shade down to bear whisper, Provvisionato was oddly hampered as she clearly had the ability to do more.

In her later solo, Fac ut portem, Provvisionato showed more of her abilities in floated long breathed lines contrasting nicely with expressive fortes and attention to text. Aliberti, by contrast, continued in her same heavily mannered way with snatched high notes that somehow escaped her throat following immediate diminuendos in a woefully underpowered Inflammatus et accensus that found the chorus in fine form.

If Signorini’s bass was a trifle thick-toned to be ideally flexible, it mattered little against evident difficulties elsewhere. The Pro peccatis and following Eja mater, sung with acapella chorus, was a momentary sparkle of fluently handled precision and contrast between the forces. Olmi’s sensitive pacing here helped matters considerably. So too in the work’s magnificent ending – the acapella Quando corpus morietur and accompanied fugal Amen. Finally, the work’s daring showed its true self in glorious fulsome voice – a union of Rossinian mordent wit and seriousness in long-breathed lines punchily underpinned by rousing playing. If only it had all been that way.

By the time of reading, everyone concerned will have flown to Rome for a repeat performance. Did things fare better there I wonder? It’s hard to see how they might have.



Evan Dickerson






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