Mozart’s Requiem

Meistermusik [original version of Masonic Funeral Music, K477, reconstructed by P.A. Autexier]
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Requiem, K626 [completed Süssmayr]

Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Ingeborg Danz (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Alfred Reiter (bass)

Collegium Vocale Gent

Orchestre des Champs-Élysées
Philippe Herreweghe

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 27 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The announcement of a ‘First performance at the Proms’ of a work by Mozart is certainly not an everyday occurrence. In the event, some explanation is necessary – what Philippe Herreweghe and his forces presented to a packed Royal Albert Hall is in fact a version of the Masonic Funeral Music with male voices intoning the plainchant, ‘Replevit me amaritudinibus inebriavit me absinthio’ (Lamentations) instead of the more familiar instrumental forces. The use of ‘period’ instruments, especially an acidic oboe, emphasised the barren nature of the score, while the choir emphasised the feeling of concentrated ritual. The ray of light at the close offered some consolation before the more familiar territory of Symphony No.39.

If the first item on the programme focussed on death, the second was positively life-enhancing. Hard-stick timpani gave real point to the first movement’s Adagio introduction (possibly predictably rather fast-paced). Herreweghe seemed to revel in the explorations of the development section just as much as he did in the ultra-clean textures of the second movement Andante con moto. This slow movement was certainly not as comfortable as most. Ascending lines seemed restless, searching for something just out of reach – the world of “Don Giovanni” was remarkably close. This was the highlight of the reading. If there was any criticism for the balance overall, it was that the sound was rather bass-light. Another point of balance – the famous Trio found a first clarinettist effectively alone (the chalumeau burbling of the second one was all but inaudible).

The “Requiem” was given in the well-known Süssmayr completion. Any (rather strange) hints of jollity from the string figures at the outset were soon exorcised by the chorus’s dark entrance. In fact Collegium Vocale Gent was exemplary throughout this memorable performance. Perhaps most impressive was its superb control in pianissimo (heard at its zenith in a disembodied, “voca me cum benedictis” in the ‘Confutatis’). The other end of the dynamic scale (the ‘Dies irae’ and the ‘Rex tremendae’) found this reviewer pining after larger forces to furnish greater contrast between the extremes, especially on the word ‘Rex’.

The solo quartet was expertly chosen. Carolyn Sampson impressed as Semele at English National Opera in 2004, and she was scarcely less impressive here, very pure of voice. Ingeborg Danz revealed her velvety contralto especially in the ‘Recordare’ and the “Judex ergo” of the ‘Tuba mirum’. Alfred Reiter’s strong but not huge bass was fitting for his solo in the ‘Tuba mirum’, while Mark Padmore lived up to his excellent reputation (one slightly late entry notwithstanding).

Herreweghe paced the whole convincingly. Only his propensity for long breaks between what seemed like each and every section threatened to undermine the integrity of the whole.

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