Mozart & Rossini

Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Stabat mater

Lucia Aliberti (soprano)
Francesca Provvisionato (mezzo-soprano)
Davide Alegret (tenor)
Manrico Signorini (bass)

London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Paolo Olmi

Reviewed by: Edward Lewis

Reviewed: 23 November, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Rossini, born within twelve months of Mozart’s death, once wrote of him: “He was the inspiration of my youth, the desperation of my middle years, and the consolation of my old age”. His feelings, then, on this pairing of his “Stabat mater” with Mozart’s 40th Symphony, could well have been mixed, but the combination allowed the London Philharmonic, under Paolo Olmi, to demonstrate two quite different sides of its nature – one the orchestra as soloist, strident and risk-taking; the other the more sensitive, tender orchestra as accompanist.

The Mozart opened confidently, with vibrant string statements of the first subject decisively contrasted with the more tonally subdued second subject. Olmi, conducting without a baton, demonstrated a masterful handling of ebb and flow through dynamic gradation and sympathetic phrasing, and presented the string section as a totally coherent musical entity. Not so the woodwinds, who experienced slight but recurrent ensemble problems.

This generally confident playing was maintained throughout the first three movements, with the harmonic suspensions of the Andante smoothly integrated into the forceful playing style. The incredibly fast tempo at which Olmi took the finale, however, shattered this rather polished effect. Seeming to take the orchestra by surprise with a confused and frantic start, the movement rushed on with a sense of panic rather than excitement. Skimmed notes and grabbed page-turns littered the musical landscape of what had been hitherto a solid performance.

The London Philharmonic Choir is, without doubt, one of the leading choruses. From the confident and powerful opening of the “Stabat mater”, through to the complex conclusion, its members demonstrated superb technical mastery, a highly intuitive yet disciplined approach to dynamic shaping and musical phrasing, and an appropriately wide dynamic range. In the dramatic “Inflammatus et accensus”, for example, it achieved both a terrifyingly hard and powerful tone when required as well as the mysterious, almost sotto voce called for elsewhere. One or two moments of disagreement over timing between the chorus and the soloists, such as in the “Eja mater”, were rare exceptions, and merely served to show up the high quality of the rest of the chorus’s singing.

The orchestra also proved itself to be more than equal to the task of accompanying. Particularly noteworthy was some sublime playing from the horn and brass sections, both displaying a large degree of musical unity and coherence, as well as a sensitivity towards the chorus’s and soloists’ needs.

It would have been hard to find a more Italian sight than these four soloists, short of tuning into a Rome-based soap-opera. The tall, striking Davide Alegret managed, through his clear, well-defined voice, to bring sincerity even to the more operatically light-hearted “Cujus animam”, holding the audience captivated through his serene handling of the notorious high passage at the end of that movement. The solemn, full-bodied tones of Manrico Signorini proved pleasingly appropriate in the ponderous “Pro peccatis”, with his particularly resonant lower range. Francesca Provvisionato was a stronger, more operatic element to the quartet passages, and her flowing yet dramatic rendition of the “Fac ut portem” perfectly distilled the captivating tenderness of that beautiful text.

Which brings us to soprano Lucia Aliberti. I found myself wondering, for her sake, if she may have been ill, as her performance seemed distinctly understated. The higher passages were delivered incredibly quietly, and appeared to be causing her some discomfort. The tuning at the more climactic moments was variable, although she blended well in the quartet sections.

The lasting impression of the concert, however, was that of the choir’s sheer technical mastery, inherent musicality and near-perfect presentation. Whilst Rossini might have had words to mutter about the programming, this performance of his own work was undoubtedly one that would have pleased his notoriously fussy tastes.

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