Mostly Mozart 08 – Requiem

Der Schauspieldirektor – Overture
Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!, K418; Nehmt meinen Dank, ihr holden Gönner, K383; Popoli di Tessaglia! … lo non chiedo, K316; Die Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache
Requiem, K626 [completed Süssmayr]

Cyndia Sieden (soprano)
Renata Pokupić (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
Andrew Foster-Williams (bass)

Mostly Mozart Festival Chorus

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Carlo Rizzi

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 2 August, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

If one discounts Süssmayr’s contribution, this final concert of “Mostly Mozart 08” was actually ‘wholly Mozart’, but the combination of the least-memorable of his overtures followed by an unbroken succession of four soprano arias and then the Süssmayr-completion of the “Requiem” made for a distinctly indigestible programme.

Carlo RizziThe overture to “The Impresario” (a Singspiel) bustled along efficiently enough at a tempo slightly too fast for either clarity or characterisation; shorn of light and shade Carlo Rizzi made no particular case for including it other than as an all-purpose opener.

The main business of the first half was the sequence of arias culminating in that for the Queen of the Night and displayed the silvery coloratura of Cyndia Sieden who is clearly a fine dramatic actress as well as a fine singer. Unfortunately four arias without a break is a hard act to pull off, especially with the final hurdle of “The Magic Flute” aria lying in wait.

Along the way there were some good things, notably some beautifully soft singing in the more stratospheric reaches of “Vorrei spiegarvi”, one of two insertion arias which Mozart wrote to showcase Aloysia Weber’s voice in a now-forgotten opera by Pasquale Anfossi. Elsewhere, despite some fine oboe solos from Christopher Cowie, Sieden was not helped by Rizzi’s workaday accompaniments which were lacking in finesse and frequently too loud. Consequently, by the time we reached the show-stopping ‘Der Hölle Rache’, Sieden’s voice was showing significant signs of wear (cannily, in the opera itself Mozart makes sure that the singer arrives completely fresh).

Despite the comparatively modest forces employed (including a choir of 36) the performance of the “Requiem” had a strangely old-fashioned feel to it and might have emanated from a bygone age when this music was regularly performed by much larger choral groups.

Andrew Foster-Williams. Photograph: Andres LandinoGiven Rizzi’s persistent over-forcefulness and unwillingness to rein in his forces, the decision to place the soloists behind the orchestra (to its left) frequently left the singers struggling to be heard. At least the quartet itself was well-balanced, with Renata Pokupić and Andrew Foster-Williams both making fine contributions, notably in the ‘Recordare’.

One of the problems of performing religious music in a secular context is that devoid of its original church surroundings – and acoustic – the distinctive message of the differing sections becomes blunted. There was not much hint of intercession in the ‘Recordare’ and people actually clapped after the ‘Dies Irae’ – one wonders whether they will respond similarly when at the last they are confronted with their Maker!

The Mostly Mozart Festival Chorus (chorus-master not credited) was a well-balanced group who, encouraged by Rizzi, sang lustily, but the overall impression was of tackling a choral assault-course with just three dynamics, loud, louder and – very occasionally – soft. With such unremitting weight of sound one might have been listening Bruckner’s “Te Deum” – even the delicious ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ lacked any hint of lightness and one emerged at the close battered rather than uplifted.

The evening was rounded off with celebratory fireworks on the Barbican lakeside – a more ironically surreal touch would be hard to devise.

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