Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Requiem Mass in D minor, K626
Lynda Russell (soprano)
Jane Irwin (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Christopher Purves (bass)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 19 November, 2004
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh
A gratifyingly large audience filled the resplendently restored Usher Hall for this all-Mozart programme from Walter Weller, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Music Director from 1992-97 and now Conductor Emeritus. Not only was the audience large, so too the scale of the forces employed. With a choir of 110 and an orchestra of 75 (including 8 double basses and the recently renovated Usher Hall organ, a substantial instrument) this was a gloriously anachronistic occasion, almost the musical equivalent of spotting an endangered species – how often nowadays is Mozart’s Requiem performed by 200 performers?
Not always the most inspirational of conductors, Weller is nonetheless a safe pair of hands, especially in Mozart, and his conception of the Requiem was like a distant echo of the sort of performance that Karl Böhm conducted: measured, mellow, grand and unfailingly musical. The very scale of the forces involved, especially when underpinned by a very present organ, militated against the sort of lithe speeds that are now ‘standard’. However, Weller’s instincts in this music are for something leisurely and devotional, so there was a clear marriage of performer and performing style.
This performance satisfyingly reminded that many small-scale performances tend to skate over aspects of the Requiem, namely that it is a profoundly spiritual music to be shared by performers and audience alike. For example, the opening ‘Kyrie’ was gently breathed into life (if that’s not a contradiction of terms for a Requiem) with a real sense of awe, whilst the magical ending of the ‘Confutatis’ and the ‘Lacrimosa’ both touched deeper meditative levels than many more overt performances. Elsewhere, Weller’s slow tempos – in the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ and the ‘Benedictus’ were occasionally too flaccid to maintain momentum.
The solo quartet’s contribution was notable for some memorably fine singing from Jane Irwin and Mark Padmore, and they would have probably been well-balanced were it not for the unfortunate indisposition of Lynne Dawson. Ungallant as it is to criticise a last-minute substitution, Lynda Russell was the weak link, singing with an unpleasant beat in the voice and acidic tone. For the most part the large choir was excellent, responding well to Weller’s clear beat, although the singers were occasionally stretched by his slow speeds. The Usher Hall’s steeply raked organ gallery (the organ set high above) is particularly helpful for choirs, an object-lesson for hall-designers, offering as it does good sight-lines to the conductor and the layout helps clarify the choral sound.
The concert opened with an equally large-scale performance of the ‘Linz’ symphony, music well-suited to Weller’s generosity. This was not the most polished Mozart playing – more assertive conducting would have been needed for that – but, apart from an unduly moderate tempo for the finale, this was stylish if not particularly exhilarating. However, the real business of the evening was the Requiem.