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Brahms, Richard Strauss, Mozart: Katie Van Kooten (soprano), Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), James Rutherford (bass), CBSO Chorus, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniele Rustioni (conductor); Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 27.11.2010 (MC)

Tragic Overture, Op. 81 (1880)
Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs (1948)
Mozart, completed Süssmayr: Requiem, K626 (1791)

A programme of three works inextricably associated with the sombre theme of tragedy and death might not seem like everyone’s idea of a good evening’s entertainment.
Bouncing energetically onto the podium for his BBC Philharmonic debut was the confident and enthusiastic young conductor Daniele Rustioni who at short notice replaced Pablo Heras-Casado who was unwell. Grief counselling certainly wasn’t necessary after hearing such inspiring performances of these glorious scores.

Originally programmed to open the concert Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was replaced by Brahms’s Tragic Overture. Although Brahms left no clues to any specific tragedy that the overture commemorated Rustioni brought out the dark hued yet dramatic mood of the score in a way that fortified the spirit. The excellent BBC Phil certainly responded to this agreeable young Milanese maestro displaying those biting brass, fruity woodwind and velvety strings especially those scrumptious good enough to eat cellos.

It was good to hear soprano Katie Van Kooten join the BBC Phil for Richard Strauss’s final offering, the Four Last Songs. Composed as late as 1948 Strauss
didn’t live long enough to hear the première of his magnificent settings. Van Kooten certainly made the most of Strauss’s soaring melodies with a moving rendition of these elegiac texts so permeated with a sense of spiritual conciliation and an acquiescence that the final breaths of life are shortly to appear. In Frühling (Spring) the soprano’s slightly rasping timbre departed as weight was added and her voice warmed. By the final song Im Abendrot (At Sunset) the combined waves of sound from soloist and orchestra were so radiant and affecting that it would have been absurd not to let the sound just wash over like a balm.

Rustioni turned to Mozart’s Requiem Mass representing not a hatred of death endured but a love of life lived - such is its uplifting disposition. With astute pacing Rustioni’s assured and efficacious reading was as reverential as possible given the non-sacred surroundings. Showing immaculate form the CBSO Chorus provided an almost incessant flow of beautifully toned singing. Winning over the audience the fine quartet of soloists Katie Van Kooten; Wendy Dawn Thompson; Andrew Kennedy and James Rutherford were nicely blended especially in the respectfully beseeching and serene Recordare. Making full use of her limited solo involvement mezzo Wendy Dawn Thompson was so vividly clear and James Rutherford, recently Hans Sachs in Meistersingers at Bayreuth, an expressive and darkly menacing bass. Adroitly Rustioni brought the choral and orchestral forces together creating a remarkable intensity in the Agnus Dei a sacred pinnacle of the mass and I was struck by the convincing degree of sorrow generated in the famous Lacrimosa.

Splendidly exploiting
his unexpected opportunity Daniele Rustioni can take considerable credit for his unerring contribution and a bright future looks certain.  Rustioni must surely return to the Bridgwater soon.

Michael Cookson


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