Mozart’s Requiem Fails to Come Alight  

19/08/2015

Edinburgh International Festival 2015 (12) – Mozart: Miah  Persson (sop), Barbara Kozelj (mezzo), Jeremy Ovendon (tenor), Konstantin Wolff (bass), Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer (conductor), Usher Hall, 18.8.2015. (SRT)

Mozart:  Symphony No. 38, “Prague”
Requiem

This was the first event in this year’s EIF to sell out, and who could be surprised, with popular repertoire and great artists to perform it?  But in the event there was very little sense of occasion, and precious little spark either.

I liked the way Fischer arranged his forces in the Requiem, placing the soloists (separately) in the midst of the orchestra, and putting the basset horns and bassoons at front centre.  The prominence of their oily sound was one of the best things about the orchestral sonority, as was the outstanding trombone solo in the Tuba Mirum.  Fischer seemed oddly disengaged throughout the performance, however, (he was limping visibly: I wonder if he has been distracted by injury?) and he didn’t seem able to galvanise the Festival Chorus, who sounded terribly unwieldy in the Introitus; effortful with some imprecise entries, and an awfully breathy sound which lacked focus, something which was to become a particular problem in the fugue of the Offertorio.

Things improved in the Sequenza, whose faster tempi seemed to give a spark to the chorus, and there was an engaging warmth to the Hostias; but they were firing far below their best.  Nor did Fischer generate much podium excitement.  For bizarre reasons best known to himself, he insisted on lengthy pauses between each big section, which torpedoed the structural flow, and he seemed unwilling ever to generate a proper sense of climax or of homecoming, with surprisingly quiet finales to the outer movements, and even a pale Amen to end the Lachrymosa, the very embodiment of anti-climax.  If that was a conscious interpretative decision then it was wrong-headed.

Miah Persson’s aristocratic soprano came off best from the soloists, though I also admired the fearless attack of Jeremy Ovendon’s gleaming tenor.  Both were preferable to the melodrama of Barbara Kozelj.  Konstantin Wolff warmed up eventually, but the bottom of his register was almost entirely lost.

The Prague Symphony promised a lot with its momentous introduction which managed to be both monumental and supple, with a sense that this music really could go anywhere.  However, that very monumentality weighed down the ensuing Allegro, much as I liked the occasional flecks of unexpected legato.  Conversely, the Andante wasn’t hanging around, and came across as rather too workmanlike in its semiquaver passages, albeit with pleasingly sweet tone.  The only fully satisfying movement was the finale, which was taken at a relatively safe tempo but built up a head of steam as it developed, and raged satisfyingly at the onset of the development.  Nevertheless, this evening felt like a lost opportunity: all the stars were in line, but not much actually happened.

The concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3 and will be broadcast after the end of the Proms season.

The 2015 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 31st August at venues across the city.  For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson

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