A Mozart Requiem with Frayed Edges and a Successful Schubert Unfinished
Mozart, Schubert: Julia Kleiter (sop), Diana Haller (mezzo), Benjamin Bruns (tenor), Michael Nagy (bass), SCO Chorus, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Philippe Herreweghe (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 12.03.2015 (SRT)
Mozart: Kyrie in D minor
Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished”
Philippe Herreweghe made a big impression when he conducted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and I was glad to see him back tonight. I love the warm quality of tone that he elicits from an orchestra, and he came up trumps with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, full of precise and distinctive colour from each section, be it the agitated strings, the serene winds or the golden brass that seemed to anchor the whole sound. If Herreweghe’s approach was on the fast side then at least that paid dividends in the first movement, where drama and tension were never far from the surface and there was little consolation to be had from the cellos in the second theme. The serenity of the winds really impressed me in the Andante, however, and I especially liked the sombre tone of the chorale that they played over the march-like rhythm from the rest of the orchestra, a still centre in the midst of some fairly tumultuous action.
Mozart’s Requiem was a more mixed success, though I’m told that rehearsal time was cut very short due to a musician being taken ill. If there were frayed edges then they tended to come in the timing, with either orchestra or singers seeming to race ahead for much of the first few movements. Furthermore, the choir seemed to sing at pretty much the same volume throughout, with little variety of expression and, more importantly, a reluctance properly to attack the big moments. In this, the Confutatis was a welcome exception, with singing and pacing of proper gusto, but the Dies Irae, for example, lacked the between-the-eyeballs sense of power that it needs. The soloists fared mostly well, albeit with some slightly stray pitching from Bruns’ tenor, but I loved the power and colour that Diana Haller and Michael Nagy brought to the lower writing. The chorus seemed more comfortable in the earlier Kyrie (K341), which shares the Requiem’s key, as well as its dark atmosphere and brooding harmonies, and is surprisingly intense for such a youthful work.