LSO/Welser-Möst – 15 February

Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63
Requiem in D minor, K626
Ave verum corpus, K618

Sally Matthews (soprano)
Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Alfred Reiter (bass)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 15 February, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

On more than one level this intriguing programme turned out to be deeply puzzling and unsatisfactory. Leaving aside the question of whether it was necessary – or simply tempting fate – to bill this concert as “Odes to Mortality”, this had to be one of the weirder conjunctions of works. It also proved a strange choice for the second of Franz Welser-Möst’s debut concerts with the LSO: he had little to say about either work.

London has been spoilt recently with memorable Sibelius performances from Colin Davis, Berglund and Vänskä. However deeply felt Welser-Möst’s Sibelius 4 was, there was much that was equally deeply misconceived. For the greater part it was incredibly slow, particularly the first movement but scarcely less so in the second movement and finale. Slowness is no bad thing – but add into the mix a lack of forward momentum and inner tension for an exceedingly long haul.

Least damaged by this treatment was the third movement, Il tempo largo, which was graced by some sensitive wind playing, though the build up to its climax has seldom sounded closer to Parsifal. The last movement (glockenspiel option taken) encapsulated all that was least satisfactory about this performance – its bracing and volatile forward momentum replaced by a curious phlegmatic inertia – come the enigmatic close the music had sagged and petered out rather than reaching an inexorable conclusion. Fine LSO playing failed to save the day.

Scarcely more satisfactory was the large-scale performance of the Mozart Requiem (as completed by Süssmayr), which was dedicated to the memory of Arthur Oldham, the London Symphony Chorus’s outstanding director from 1969-76 who died last year. Here at least one thought Welser-Möst, a native of Linz, would be on home ground. Not so! Saddling himself with a full orchestra and a choir of more than 150, this rendition was unremittingly hefty, devoid of light and shade, and the singing of the LSO Chorus adequate rather than inspired. Despite some accomplished moments, the best thing was the solo quartet, especially Sally Matthews, who has a radiant voice, and Alfred Reiter, a genuine basso profundo (some less than elegant phrasing in the Tuba Mirum aside). Rather better was the Ave verum corpus, which followed the Requiem without a break.

If this pair of concerts is the start of a longer-term relationship between Welser-Möst and the LSO, future programming should play more to the conductor’s strengths. Franz Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony or even a Wagner evening would be enticing.

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